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LE NEWSLETTER

May 5, 2011

What a history-making week! 
News broke on Sunday night about Bin Laden's death. The image of people gathering at Ground Zero, especially the police and firefighters will stay with me a long time. My only hope is that peace now stands a chance and that the troops can come home.

Weather continues to be the strangest spring I can remember.  Will the warmer weather ever get here?  Tell me yes!

And politically in Canada, also another big week. While personally I'm not a fan of the results, I do hope that the new government will do the right thing by our citizens.  Idealistic?  Perhaps - time will tell. 
 

The
UFC was also big in the history books in sports this week.  According to fans, it was the best line-up and matches they had witnessed ever.  Kudos to the UFC, while I'm sincerely not a fan, for bringing global value to our city and excitement to their fans, which rippled through the city all weekend.  These are a couple of photos I was able to capture at The Bay Queen Street's Affliction autograph signing (myself and Randy Couture / Sam Stout, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Chris Horodecki).

Once again, there is lots of entertainment news this week so I'm going to let you get right to it!  Take a scroll and a read of your weekly entertainment news.

::SCOOP::

‘This Is A Great Day To Be An American’

Source:  www.thestar.com - Paul Hunter

(May 02, 2011) WASHINGTON—Amid the fist-pumping, flag-waving, camera-hogging mass congregated outside the White House, Monica Lawson arrived seeking a peaceful moment to remember a sister killed in the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

“I was hoping to find a place to light this candle,” said the 54-year-old. “But this is more of a celebration than anything else.”

Osama bin Laden was dead and this was not a time for quiet reflection. The wake to end all wakes had begun. The party was on.

By the thousands, some holding hastily crafted signs — “Never Forget” was a popular choice; “Ding. Dong. Bin Laden is Dead” being a little less poignant — and everyone seemingly with a cellphone camera to record the moment, the revellers descended on Pennsylvania Ave. for a spontaneous street celebration; a time of cathartic relief. The man who had become the face of international terrorism was gone.

“The feeling is a little bit like winning a war even though he was only one
man,” said 37-year-old Damon Fodge, standing in the crowd, the stars and stripes draped over his shoulder. “That maybe is overstating it but this scene reminds me of the pictures of people kissing in the streets after World War II.”

I was there, too. In the U.S. capital to cover an NHL playoff game, I was caught in the magnetic force that seemed to draw everyone into the downtown core in a stream of horn-honking cars and “U.S.A.” chanting marchers.

“This isn’t just our party,” said one reveller, learning I was Canadian. “This is for everybody.”

That was undoubtedly true. Rare is the person on either side of border, or worldwide, who hasn’t been touched in some way by 9/11 or subsequent terror strikes linked to Al Qaeda. But I couldn’t help but be struck by the youth of the crowd. Many of whom would only have been in primary school in 2001 when the Pentagon and World Trade Center were attacked.

But the “Party at the White House” call had gone out on Twitter and many students from George Washington, Georgetown, American and other nearby universities abandoned studying for finals and deserted their campuses.

That turned the street into what felt like a giant frat party or pep rally. Young people climbed trees or onto each others’ shoulders to take turns leading chants of “Yes We Did” or singing, “Na, Na, Na, Na. Hey, Hey Goodbye.” Others crowded in front of cameras and, on cue, chanted “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!”

There were also awkward moments of silence and milling about. It was as if everyone arrived at a New Year’s party after midnight and needed occasional prompting to ramp up their emotions again.

“You wonder if they even know why they should feel this good,” said Amy Gabriel, a Red Cross worker who assisted after the crash of Flight 93 in Pittsburgh during that day of attacks in 2001.

“I figured it would be a little more of a mix but I guess it’s the kids that have a little more energy at this hour.”

While the magnitude of the moment was clearly moving and many on hand spoke of the sense of “closure” they felt, at times it seemed a little crass with “F--K Yeah” a popular slogan on hand-made cardboard signs and handwritten on more than a few T-shirts. There was also the bizarre. One family brought a life-sized George W. Bush cutout for people to pose with, another fellow in an Uncle Sam hat bounded about on a pogo stick.

There were also those who used the occasion to make a buck, literally in the case of the vendors who appeared, hawking God Bless America buttons at a dollar each. A street musician set up quickly looked to enjoying a good night’s work, perfectly reading the crowd and playing the “Star Spangled Banner” and “America the Beautiful” on trumpet.

But despite the hawkers and the gawkers, the prevailing mood on the street was of unbridled joy.

Matt James, a 29-year-old combat veteran on medical retirement after he was injured in Iraq in 2005, climbed to the peak of his roof and to get his American flag when he heard bin Laden was dead. He wanted to parade it outside the White House.

“This is a great day to be an American,” he said. “It’s like I got slammed with an IED (improvised explosive device) of emotion.”

::TOP STORIES::

GSP Wins To Cap Knockout Night At UFC129

Source:  www.thestar.com - Morgan Campbell

(May 1, 2011)
Georges St-Pierre won with relative ease.

Mark Hominick lost with undeniable heart.

Together the two Canadian mixed martial artists helped ensure the UFC’s debut in Toronto lived up to four months worth of hype.

Defending his UFC welterweight belt for the seventh time, St-Pierre expected the toughest challenge of his career from Shields in the main event of
UFC 129.

Instead, he found a willing student for a clinic on how to win efficiently — St-Pierre bloodying Shields’ nose with jabs and rattling his jaw with right crosses and a roundhouse kick.

Any time Shields would try to force a grappling match, St-Pierre would escape his grasp and re-establish the pattern that brought him so much success — stick, move, kick, repeat.

By the fifth round some of the UFC-record 55,000 spectators had
begun to boo, frustrated with Shields’ refusal to switch tactics and St-Pierre’s disinclination to finish him.

After the bout, which St-Pierre won by unanimous decision, St-Pierre said blurred vision in his left eye hampered him.

“I’m sorry for the fans,” he said. “I wanted to make a knockout or a decision.”

Hominick had nothing to apologize for.

He earned the most passionate cheers of the evening during the final round of the co-feature when, losing big on every scorecard, pounded desperately at an equally desperate bantamweight champ Jose Aldo.

Few would have begrudged referee John McCarthy if he had stopped the bout before the final round.

Early on, Aldo won several ferocious exchanges, kicking hard to Hominick’s legs and raising a welt the size of a tennis ball on the Thamesford, Ont. native’s forehead.

Yet he allowed the fight to continue and Hominick responded by dropping Aldo early and beating on him for the entire final round.

He just couldn’t rally for the win.

Randy Couture, meanwhile, never even had that chance.

Brazilian Lyoto Machida unleashed the blow that knocked the 47-year-old Couture into retirement, delivering a leaping front kick to Couture’s face and sending him crashing to the canvas at 1:05 of round two.

After Machida flattened him, Couture said he was done.

“You’re not going to see me again,” he said.

Before the bell sounded to start the final round of his lightweight showdown with Woodbridge’s Mark Bocek, American Ben Henderson begged the sellout crowd to make noise.

“Come on,” he shouted. “We do this for you!”

The Rogers Centre crowd didn’t need the encouragement.

They showed up shouting.

The 55,000 people who bought tickets to Saturday night’s spectacle didn’t even include the celebrities — both niche and full-fledged — who showed up.

Canadian hip-hop sensation Drake strolled to a ringside seat midway through the undercard, but between fights he had to compete for attention with past UFC stars like Barrie’s Gary Goodridge and present studs like UFC light-heavyweight champ Jon (Bones) Jones.

In the Rogers Centre’s upper reaches, only a sprinkling of seats remained unoccupied by fans. Everywhere else they filled the Rogers Centre to witness the UFC’s spectacle.

And become the biggest part of it.

Fighters entered the ring to music loud enough to shake ringside tables, a noise in turn drowned out by goosebump-inducing cheers from the sellout crowd.

As Rory McDonald tossed American Nate Diaz around the Octagon on the way to a unanimous decision win, he says the crowd — the largest in UFC history — gave him a tangible boost.

“It was awesome,” said McDonald, who improved his record to 11-1.

“I definitely heard them when I hit the slams and then on the ground-and-pound. It was like a big wave of noise.”

The undercard gave the audience plenty of scream for. Like Jake Ellenberger’s one-punch destruction of Sean (Pimp Daddy) Pierson. This jolted the crowd, even though Toronto’s Pierson was that bout’s hometown hero.

Or like Montreal’s Ivan Menjivar dropping Californian Charlie Valencia with an elbow strike, then pounding him into submission.

Or like another John Makdessi’s sickening spinning backfist to the face of American Kyle Watson, who was unconscious before he hit the ground, then knocked into a deeper sleep when his head smacked the canvas.

Watson lay prostrate for several minutes, surrounded by medical staff, his right leg twitching as Makdessi calmly conducted an interview a few feet away.

Ask The Fight Doc: Should Mark Hominick's Hematoma Have Prompted A Stoppage?

Source:  www.thestar.com - by Dr. Johnny Benjamin

(May 2, 2011) It was one of the more grotesque images coming out of
this past weekend's UFC 129 event, but was it dangerous?

When title challenger
Mark Hominick fell short to featherweight champion Jose Aldo in a spirited UFC 129 co-headliner, the Canadian's forehead ballooned up to epic proportions with a noticeable hematoma.

In our latest "Ask the Fight Doc" instalment, MMAjunkie.com medical columnist Dr. Johnny Benjamin discusses the nature of hematomas, whether officials made the right call to let the fight continue, and how such injuries are treated.

* * * *

With the massive swelling on Mark Hominick's forehead, should his UFC 129 "Fight of the Night" with Jose Aldo have been stopped?

As soon as I saw the enormous and rapidly expanding "alien" erupting from the forehead of Mark Hominick, I knew that my inbox would be overflowing.

In a sport as action packed and violent as MMA, there are several topics that are extremely difficult for passionate fans to navigate logically: weight-cutting, performance-enhancing drugs, flash KOs, retirement due to accumulation of trauma, and doctor stoppages, just to name a few.

I often must harness my inner fan and limit my comments to those hot-button issues that are medically related within my field of expertise.

Once again, as I have stated many times, there is a significant medical difference between injuries that are visually compelling (and even grotesque) as opposed to those that may be life, limb, neurologically (paralysis) or sensory (vision, hearing etc.) threatening.

Visually compelling injuries (many cuts/lacerations, abrasions, contusions, hematomas/bruises etc.) need to be properly inspected by properly trained and seasoned cageside medical staff, observed by vigilant referees, and managed by well-trained, experienced corner men. These injuries can provide amazing theatre and crowd reaction, but when properly handled, they pose minimal risk to the affected athlete. These types of injuries are minor and do not put the fighter at a significant increased risk.

In these instances, the fight should continue.

An enlarging forehead hematoma (bruise or collection of blood) that does not significantly affect an athlete's vision is not dangerous. The ring side physician made the proper call on a huge stage. Job well done, sir!

FYI: Post-fight after a thorough cleansing to decrease the chance of infection, a large-diameter needle (since blood is thick) will easily evacuate the collected blood. Ice and a pressure dressing are then applied to retard the re-accumulation of blood. This minor procedure should happen without delay before the blood clots and before the blood is more difficult to remove and becomes possibly disfiguring (think cauliflower ear). Channelling Rocky and "just cut me Mick" between rounds is not an option.

On more than a few occasions, I have been critical of promotions, state athletic commissions, referees, medical personnel and even fighters for their medical decision-making processes that seemed to be flawed. (Yeah, I didn't win a lot of friends with those articles and interviews.) And, I've also sung the praises of those that get it right even when their decisions were almost certain to be viewed as very unpopular. (And those pieces got me labelled a suck-up or far worse.)

In my opinion, the UFC and most MMA far exceed other major sporting leagues (NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL and professional boxing) when it comes to athletes' safety during competition.

Unlike professional boxing, the cut men are consistent,
all superbly skilled, experienced and supplied by the UFC. They are not the fighters' cousins or uncles like we commonly see in boxing. If a fighter gets injured, he can rest assured that he will receive exceptional care between rounds – every time.

The referees are experienced, exceptional and consistent. (Welcome back "Big" John McCarthy.)

If we could just do something with some of the judges (did I say that?).

In the UFC unlike the NFL, NHL and MLB, physicians (team doctors) who evaluate the athletes are not paid consultants of the team and viewed by the athletes as having a potential conflict of interest.

Now, if the UFC would just institute Olympic-style year-round drug testing...

For complete coverage of UFC 129, stay tuned to the UFC Events section of MMAjunkie.com.

Canadian Reality TV Crew Crashes In Helicopter

Source:  www.thestar.com - By Bill Brioux

(May 01, 2011) INDIANA, PA. — Authorities in western Pennsylvania
say a helicopter carrying a reality TV crew who were reportedly Canadians crashed near Indiana University of Pennsylvania, but no fatalities have been reported.

A total of four people were apparently on board.

U.S. Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Jim Peters says one of the three passengers, who are all Canadian, walked away but the others on board were injured.

One is in critical condition while another is in serious condition.

The condition of the other person is unknown.

A spokeswoman for Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh confirmed the pilot had been taken there but declined to release information about his condition.

The helicopter went down shortly after 8:30 p.m. Saturday between two apartment buildings, glancing off one of them and landing upside-down.

Officials say no one on the ground was injured.

The Indiana Gazette said the film crew had been following borough officers for Campus PD, a show filmed in the style of COPS.

University spokeswoman Michelle Fryling said the university was not involved in the filming. She said two students had asked for temporary housing.

Tinie Tempah: Getting Smitten With Rapper From Britain

Source:  www.thestar.com - By Jason Richards

(May 01, 2011) For a British rapper, there is no greater challenge than breaking into the North American market.

Just ask U.K. rappers like Dizzee Rascal and Jay-Z protégée Lady Sovereign, artists with U.S. record deals who were unable to make a significant impact stateside, even at the peak of their popularity in Europe.

England’s hip-hop sensibility has typically been a tough sell for an audience that tends to gravitate away from anything too transgressive, including rhymes dropped in a British accent over syncopated beats.

Regardless, the music industry appears to be on a continuous hunt for the next M.I.A., an exception to the rule. At the moment,
Tinie Tempah is hip hop’s next hope from across the pond.

Born Patrick Chukwuemeka Okogwu in South London, Tempah spent the past few years becoming a huge star in his home country on a tide of mixtapes and hit singles. Relative to his fame in England, Toronto is privileged to see him at an intimate venue like Wrongbar, where he’ll perform this Monday.

As he promotes the North American release of his debut album, Disc-Overy (out in Europe last fall; set for May 17 here), the Brit Award-winning rapper says he’s quite satisfied by the U.S. response to his music.

“So far it’s been amazing. I feel like I’ve been received better than I could have ever asked for,” he tells the Star, speaking from EMI’s headquarters in New York City.

“It seems like there’s a whole lot of intrigue over the fact that I am British and the fact that I rap. I woke up this morning to hear that my single ‘Written in the Stars’ is number 8 on iTunes out here, so I couldn’t really be happier.”

Between chart presence, radio airplay and a well-reviewed set at the Coachella Festival in April, Tempah is off to a solid start. His next single, “Til I’m Gone” — featuring breakout rapper Wiz Khalifa and produced by Norwegian hitmakers Stargate — should win him more attention than ever.

“The collaboration with Wiz happened because of the fact that I did a remix of his song ‘Black and Yellow’ for the U.K.,” he says.

“Basically the song is me talking about the fact that I’m not really in England but I’m out here in America, going to Canada and Australia, just trying to make it happen. It’s a message to the fans back home that I’m going to try my best to do what I can.”

He acknowledges that those same British fans, and the country’s press alike, can be fickle — particularly in an environment where subgenres go in and out of style almost overnight. Tempah emerged from the U.K.’s electro-influenced grime hip-hop scene, which has fluctuated in popularity over the decade. The rapper feels established enough to not be threatened by that instability.

“Every artist in England comes from a subgenre, but once you all get into the Top 10 or whatever, you fit into a bigger umbrella. You become a pop artist,” he explains.

“There are a few artists who move with the trend and the time, however, there’s a few artists who’ve managed to consolidate themselves within their field and remain relevant as pop artists. I definitely feel that I’ve got what it takes to make that happen.

“I think I’ll be alright.”

Obituary: Danny Kassap, 28, Brought Joy To Fellow Runners

Source:  www.thestar.com - Morgan Campbell

(May 03, 2011) Peter Donato didn’t think anything was wrong on Sunday morning when he saw his friend Danny Kassap before the Sporting Life 10K, even though the local road-racing star didn’t seem dressed to compete.

Donato later learned that Kassap would strip down to shorts and a singlet and race anyway. He pulled out after seven kilometres. Donato still didn’t suspect a problem.

Some days, even experienced runners like Kassap — who won the 2004 Toronto Waterfront Marathon — just don’t have that extra gear and simply shut it down.

But later that night, Kassap, who resurrected his running career after a heart attack in 2008, told friends he wasn’t feeling well, and checked himself into Sunnybrook Hospital. At about 4 a.m. on Monday, Kassap, 28, died. The news rippled through Toronto’s tight-knit community of serious road racers.

As did questions, about how he died — a cause of death hasn’t yet been determined — and what Kassap would achieve if he were still alive.

“He had immense talent,” says Donato, who runs the website mynextrace.com. “He was so young and he had lots of good years ahead.”

Funeral arrangements are still being made for Kassap. Friends have set up a website to raise money to pay for funeral costs for a runner who came to Canada with no family.

Kassap arrived in Canada in 2001, competing for the Democratic Republic of Congo in the Francophone Games in Ottawa. When the games ended, Kassap remained in Canada, claimed refugee status and moved to Toronto.

“He was very serious about training but there was so much joy in him,” says Jay Brecher, who trained with Kassap at the University of Toronto track club. “He loved running (and) he made the people around him feel better.”

Kassap faced serious obstacles to a successful running career.

Alone in Toronto, Kassap initially lived at Covenant House, eating a less-than-optimum diet and squeezing in training sessions around his job at a fish and chip shop on the Danforth.

While stories about Kassap’s rise through the ranks of the city’s road racers border on legend, runners know his talent; the results he produced were very real.

“He had range,” Donato says. “He could run well on the track and (over) short distances, and he certainly proved his point in the marathon, though he never fulfilled his potential.”

Kassap began competing locally in the summer of 2002 and over his first two years on the local running scene, he won races at every distance from five kilometres to the half-marathon (21.1 kilometres).

He graduated to the marathon in September 2004, and in his debut at the distance, he out-sprinted a trio of experienced runners to win the Toronto Waterfront Marathon. His time — 2 hours, 14 minutes, 50 seconds — took two minutes off the course record.

Over the next four years, Kassap would win road races from Mississauga to Montreal, covering five kilometres in a personal best of 14 minutes, 18.2 seconds in July 2006. But as a refugee claimant, he couldn’t travel to the international races that colleagues thought would catapult him from a promising local talent to a legitimate world-class runner.

By April 2008, he had been granted landed immigrant status and finished 15th in the London Marathon. Four months later, he became a Canadian citizen and in September 2008, he travelled to Berlin to race on one of the world’s fasted marathon course.

Ethiopia’s Haile Gebrselassie set a world record that day. Earlier in the race, Kassap collapsed at the side of the road, felled by a heart attack caused by a latent virus. He had no pulse when medical staff reached him and spent two days in a medically-induced coma with no recollection of running.

“When I woke up (in hospital) I was so surprised,” Kassap told the Star in 2008. “I thought I was in a hotel. I saw the race organizer and I said, ‘The race is tomorrow.’ He said, ‘The race was two days ago. You collapsed.’ ”

The heart attack sidelined Kassap for 10 months and in the interim he stayed connected to the running community, working at a Running Room store downtown and coaching several local runners through their first marathons.

He returned to racing in July 2009 and though he competed just once last year, he opened up the 2011 season with a third-place finish at an eight-kilometre race in High Park.

Brookes says Kassap constantly assured race directors that doctors had cleared him to resume racing. But even if Kassap knew a significant risk existed, Brookes says it wouldn’t have been possible to stop him from doing what he loved most.

“Wherever there was running, that’s where you would find Danny,” Brookes says. “It became his world and he was part of ours. The whole running community adopted Danny as part of the family.”

::MUSIC NEWS::

Veteran Music Exec Sylvia Rhone Exiting Universal Motown

Source:  www.eurweb.com

(April 30, 2011) *The one thing you can always count on in any business is change. Well, in the music/record business, change is guaranteed.

And in the latest change to go at the Universal Music Group means veteran executive
Sylvia Rhone, president of Universal Motown, is making her exit. The news is courtesy of Johnnie L. Roberts at the wrap.com:

Under one scenario, according to two persons familiar with the situation, Rhone — perhaps the industry highest-ranking female and African-American executive — would be head a new production entity fully or partly financed by Universal.

“It’s just too early” to know the outcome of the talks, a confidante of Rhone told The Wrap.

Rhone — whose list of new and hit artists ranges from hip hop’s
Busta Rhyme to Motown legend Stevie Wonder to R&B star Brandy and Erykah Badu — wasn’t immediately available for comment. Nor could a spokesman for Universal Music be reached.

In an industry where African-American talent has long been at the core, Rhone’s departure from Universal Motown would leave the executive suite of major labels devoid of an African American presence at the industry top rungs.

Read/learn MORE at the wrap.

Pop Acts Get Starring Roles At Summer Jazz Fests

Source: www.globeandmail.com - By J.D. Considine

(Apr 27, 2011) Jazz won’t be the only music on tap this summer at both the Vancouver International Jazz Festival and the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal.

In Vancouver, Colin James opens the festival with an acoustic performance on June 24. Other pop acts include Madelaine Peyroux, Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams, and Fond of Tigers with Richard Stetson. The Bad Plus, Christian McBride, and Vancouver native Darcy James Argue are among the noteworthy jazz headliners.

Meanwhile in Montréal, Robert Plant and the Band of Joy will offer a pre-opening concert on June 24. In addition to pop singers Sade, Peter Frampton, k.d.lang, Ron Sexsmith, Marianne Faithfull, Youssou N’Dour and Milton Nascimento, the festival will introduce a new series devoted to jazz singing, featuring solo shows by Diana Krall, plus performances by DeeDee Bridgewater, Madelaine Peyroux, Emilie-Claire Barlow and others.

Naturally, there’ll also be jazz of every stripe, from mainstream legends such as Tony Bennett and Dave Brubeck to fusion stars like Return to Forever, Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, and Paco DeLucia. Grammy winner Esperanza Spalding will perform with a string trio, guitarist Marc Ribot will perform with three different bands, teen phenom Grace Kelly will spar with sax legend Phil Woods, and Brad Mehldau plays both solo and in duet with Joshua Redman.

Daniel Lanois To Host Star-Filled Event Near Small Ontario Town

Source: www.globeandmail.com - By Robert Everett-Green

(Apr 27, 2011) The food tents are usually a background attraction at summer music festivals, but Daniel Lanois wants the edibles front and centre for his first annual Harvest Picnic on Aug. 27.

The Canadian music producer and singer-songwriter has organized a one-day celebration of music and local farm produce at Christie Lake Conservation Area near Dundas, Ont.

The day will feature performances by Emmylou Harris, Ray LaMontagne, Gord Downie and Lanois himself, as well as a local farmers' market, horticultural displays and trout fishing in a stocked pond.

"The idea is to remind ourselves what we have available to us without having to travel too far," says Lanois, who grew up in nearby Hamilton. "It's about rebuilding our minds a little bit so we can pay a bit more respect to what's happening in our own backyards."

Lanois says he learned to know and appreciate the local farming communities during his urban youth, through a girlfriend who lived in the tiny hamlet of Copetown. He has spent much of his career in the United States, recording albums for the likes of Bob Dylan and U2, but recently built a new studio space in Toronto.

"Being a motorcycle rider, I'm pretty familiar with the sweet spots in the country," he says. Christie Lake Conservation Area is a 336-hectare tract that includes 10 kilometres of trails through woodlands and meadows, and a 360-metre sandy beach.

Harvest Picnic is "kind of an extension of my work with Farm Aid," he says, referring to a long-running series of rural awareness and farm-support concerts started by Willie Nelson. Lanois says Ontario tomatoes are the tastiest in the world, and that locavores - those who promote the consumption of local foodstuffs - are on to something.

"As much as I like to drink a bottle of Italian water, maybe I'd be just as happy with a jug from Ontario."

The festival lineup also includes Serena Pryne and the Mandevilles and Rocco DeLuca, as well as "up and coming local talents" to be named later. Tickets go on sale April 30 at ticketmaster.ca [http://www.ticketmaster.ca].

Angélique Kidjo's African values

Source:  www.globeandmail.com - By Guy Dixon

(May 2, 2011) When Benin-born singer Angelique Kidjo takes to the stage Tuesday for the Hope Rising benefit concert in Toronto, something unspecific, but very apparent will happen.

The air will get a little more charged, the warmth of the Sony Centre a little hotter, and the all-star line-up of artists from Alicia Keys to K'naan and Rufus Wainwright will undoubtedly seem that much fuller with Kidjo's presence. That's because Kidjo, one of Africa's biggest singers, has increasingly come to embody the continent's hopes and desires internationally.

Hope Rising is a benefit show for the Stephen Lewis Foundation, but Kidjo's advocacy work also runs from UNICEF to her own Batonga Foundation which provides secondary school and higher education for young girls. Kidjo spoke to The Globe while on tour in Europe.

What drives your advocacy work?

I grew up in Benin, one of the poorest countries in the world, and I have been very lucky to have access to education and health care because my parents understood how crucial they were for their 10 kids. I also had access to the most beautiful African music and dances. I want every little girl in Africa to have the same luck.

Some people talk of your African values when mentioning your advocacy work. What does that mean to you?

All the people who visit Africa never come back the same. It's not because of the safaris or the sights. It's because of the incredible warmth of its people, which is sometimes lost in the Western world. I am trying to bring this to the rest of the word through my music. Of course, you shouldn't be blind and should recognize when a tradition, like female genital mutilation, is hurtful and needs to disappear.

As a young woman, you left Benin for Paris to study music, where you were signed to Island Records. Did leaving Africa help you to see it that much better?

It's true that when I grew up in Benin, I didn't learn a lot about the history of the continent, about apartheid, slavery or the history of independence. So leaving Benin gave me access to more media and perspectives. But on a purely musical level, the music of Benin stayed my main source of inspiration, even though a lot of people don't hear it in my music!

Is it hard not to let advocacy work overshadow your musical career?

In a way, the advocacy work is a source of inspiration for my music.

You live in New York now. Why there?

I moved there when I started my trilogy of albums exploring the African roots of the music of the black diaspora. The first album was Oremi, inspired by soul music and the blues. I wanted to live in the Americas for a while to experience the music first-hand and the energy there. And maybe people from North America (including Canada!) have less preconceptions about Africa than Europeans.

What's next for you? Will you do more collaborations, such as your records with Bono and Joss Stone?

I am working on so many projects right now, but you have to be a little patient!

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Hope Rising plays at the Sony Centre Tuesday at 8 p.m.

Selena Gomez Has Her Eyes Wide Open

Source:  www.thestar.com - By Bill Brioux

(May 02, 2011) Don’t ask about Justin Bieber. That was the instruction
heading into the phone interview with Selena Gomez, the just-announced co-host of the 2011 MuchMusic Video Awards (June 19 at 9 p.m. in Toronto).

The 18-year-old Texan is sorta/maybe dating the Canadian pop sensation. If you’re 12 or under, their status is apparently right up there today with the results of the federal election or the death of Osama bin Laden.

Gomez, frankly, doesn’t need the distraction or the tween tabloid publicity.

Wrapping up her fifth and final year as the star of the Disney/Family Channel series The Wizards of Waverly Place, Gomez is about to release her third album with her group Selena Gomez & the Scene. The band won Favourite Breakout Artist at the most recent People's Choice Awards, beating out the likes of Bieber and Ke$ha.

It has performed around the world to sold-out crowds across the U.S., as well as in Toronto, London, Paris, Chile and Argentina.

“That show was crazy,” she says of the Buenos Aires stop. “I said to my band as we got offstage that was probably one of the most insane audiences we’d ever been in front of.”

The MMVA gig is just the next stop on a carefully orchestrated career path. Gomez is big money in the bank for her Disney label Hollywood Records, but she also stands at the foot of the bridge that leads from teenybopper sensation to a career as an adult.

As Gomez herself candidly admits, crossing that bridge won’t be easy. “To be honest,” she says, “it’s terrifying.”

She seems poised, however, to make the crossing with her eyes wide open. Her TV career began at the age of 7 as “Gianna,” one of the hyper kiddie stars on Barney & Friends. Guest roles in various TV shows followed before she was booked into the Disney sitcom factory. After appearances in Hannah Montana and The Suite Life of Zack & Cody, she landed Wizards.

“It’s kind of all I’ve known,” she says of her Disney cred. She shoots the final two episodes next week in Los Angeles and admits it’s an emotional time.

“I’ve gained such an incredible audience and incredible fans in the teen world, and I love that and now it’s time for me to transition, to be part of the adult world.”

The MMVAs seem to be a logical place to enable that transition. Once a showcase for older rock acts like David Bowie and Lenny Kravitz, the annual music industry event has reached forward in recent years to younger viewers, showcasing the likes of Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry and the Jonas Brothers. This year, Lady Gaga is set to re-hatch.

Gomez admits she’s not all that up on the Canadian music scene. “I do know that you’re all very proud of the artists that came out of Canada only because I know a few Canadians and they are very proud of where they came from,” she says.

She mentions three musical Canucks she does know: Shania Twain, Drake and some kid named Justin.

Another Canadian she’s familiar with is Cory Monteith. The Canuck from Glee co-stars with her in Monte Carlo, being released in July. “He was the best,” she says.

Her own music tastes range far beyond her pop perimeters. “I love Adele, I think she’s amazing,” she says. “Her voice is so simple and beautiful, she writes all her own music and I love that.”

Her favourite singer is a very mature choice: jazz legend Ella Fitzgerald. She credits her mom with turning her on to “Rat Packers” like Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Etta King, Ella Fitzgerald as well as The Beatles and the Rolling Stones.

A former stage actress, her mother Mandy also helped spark the acting bug, bringing her to that first Barney audition. That’s where Gomez first met fellow Texan Demi Lovato. Both home-schooled, the two grew up on studio sets as Barney brats and Disney sitcom stars, and appeared together in the Disney Channel TV-movie Princess Protection Program.

Teen fame, however, can take a toll. Lovato had a serious setback last year, walking away from a Jonas Brothers concert series to enter rehab for what she later acknowledged was a nervous breakdown.

She seemed like the unhappiest kid on the set of Camp Rock II when it shot in Toronto two years ago, especially next to the focused and uncomplicated Jonas gang. When the Jonas dad, Kevin Sr., was complimented on how his lads seemed at home under the red hot microscope of fame, he commented, “Every teenager is under a microscope.”

That insight is often overlooked when assessing Gomez and her peers. Fans and reporters forget how young these kids are.

Gomez, who turns 19 in July, seems to have a healthy perspective on her fame and a solid support group. She credits her mom and stepdad with keeping her grounded. “They obviously know me better than anybody, so they know when I’m acting unusual and they call me out on things,” she says. “They are constantly showing me examples of how wonderful they are as a couple.”

She also credits friends she has known for years from Texas “who are good influences and make me better.”

She’s also mindful that she’s a role model to millions of young fans. “They watch everything and they’re so supportive,” she says. “If anything, they make me a better person as well because I want to be the best I can be for them. I think I’ve been given a wonderful opportunity and I would be stupid to mess this up.”

Beastie Boys Bounce Back With Album

Source:  www.thestar.com - By Christian Pearce

(May 02, 2011) Beastie Boys - The original punk rock rappers return with their first lyrical LP since 2004's To The 5 Boroughs, and arguably their best album since 1989's groundbreaking Paul's Boutique.

Initially delayed after MCA was diagnosed with treatable cancer in 2009, a clean version of Hot Sauce Committee Part 2 (which is actually part one) leaked onto the web earlier this year. One of the first groups to make MP3s freely available on their own website, the Beasties rolled with the proverbial punches and let the masses stream the “dirty” version for free in advance of today's official release.

Smashing together blasts from their sonic past with flash-forward genre-bending, Ad-Rock, Mike D and MCA slap listeners with everything from their signature microphone grime and throwback basslines to robo-metal freak-core.

“Running wild like rats in the Taco Bell,” the boys jump out of the gate with “Make Some Noise,” crank up the musical pyrotechnics on “Say It,” then simmer down to stinky funk on “Long Burn the Fire” and “Here's a Little Something for You.” The lone instrumental cut, “Multilateral Nuclear Disarmament,” is a mellow sizzler, though the ears of lyric lovers may steam with the hypnotic beat's wordlessness.

The Beastie Boys have been recognized for hall-of-fame contributions to multiple genres, from hip hop to rock 'n' roll. Hot Sauce Committee Part 2 lands somewhere between the two, with the Beastie three once again proving you can put their ish on anything.

Lauryn Hill, Fantasia, Wyclef Booked for New Orleans Jazz Fest

Source: www.eurweb.com

(Apr 28, 2011) *Lauryn Hill, Fantasia and Wyclef Jean will join Cyndi Lauper and John Mellencamp as first-time performers at the 43rd annual New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, which opens Friday at the Fair Grounds Race Course.

“This is one of our broadest years, musically speaking,” said Quint Davis, producer of the festival that will run seven days, over the course of two weekends. “We’ve got important people coming from all ends of the spectrum and for some of them they’re all new to jazz fest.”

Along with fresh faces, Davis said some of the festival’s perennial favourites will return to perform on the 12 stages set up around the track.

“Jimmy Buffett, the Nevilles, Jeff Beck, Irma Thomas, Bon Jovi, these are some of our favourite people and they’ll be back,” Davis said. “Gregg Allman returns, but this year he’ll be a different version of himself. He’s coming with his blues band, a new project of his.”

Last year, musicians from the Dominican Republic, Martinique and Senegal performed at the festival. This year, the spotlight is on Haiti, still recovering from a deadly January earthquake.

In addition to performances by Jean, a Goodwill Ambassador to his homeland, fans can experience Haitian rhythms from parading Rara bands, Konpa big-band dance music, traditional drumming and popular contemporary bands including Tabou Combo, Ram, Boukman Eksperyans and Emeline Michel.

There also will be Haitian master artisans demonstrating their craft in the Haiti Pavilion, as well as food demonstrations and panel discussions on the historical and cultural connections between Haiti and New Orleans.

“We have put together the largest Haitian culture exposition in the United States since the earthquake,” Davis said. “We said, ‘Let’s remind the world about Haiti. Let’s show the world that country’s culture, art and music and remind them about the indomitable spirit of those who live there.”

Michael Kaeshammer: 'I Started Living My Life From A Different Angle'

Source: www.globeandmail.com - By J.D. Considine

(Apr 29, 2011) Most artists wait until their middle years before having a career crisis, but Michael Kaeshammer had his big moment of doubt when he was in his late 20s.

At the moment, the 34-year old singer and pianist seems the picture of confidence. Chatting over lunch in a Queen Street restaurant near his Toronto home, he's happy, relaxed, and deservedly proud of his just-released sixth album, Kaeshammer. Unlike his previous albums, which left plenty of room for him to strut his stuff on the keyboard, Kaeshammer puts its emphasis on the songs, underscoring both the singer's melodic acumen and his emotional depth. It's personal in the best sense of the term.

"That's why I called it Kaeshammer," he says. "I was looking through lyrics trying to find a title for it, and I thought, 'Well, this is as me as it gets at this point.' The fact that it's jazzy is because that's what's in here," he adds, tapping his chest. "But this is who I am, and this is what I feel at this point in my life."

Finding that comfort, and the confidence to follow his heart instead of what he saw as the audience's expectations, wasn't easy. In fact, he says, he was close to giving up on performing altogether just a few years ago.

It all started with a 60-date solo tour of Canada six or so years ago. Kaeshammer wanted a genuinely solo experience, and so headed out without a band, soundman or anything but his car and a road map.

From a performance perspective, the solo approach seemed easy enough. A boogie-woogie hotshot since his teens, the German-born pianist was a master at dazzling listeners with speed and dexterity, and knew he didn't need a band to knock people's socks off. As he puts it, "I always played with the approach of, hey, check out what I can do."

Usually, it worked. "He's a fantastic performer," says singer Sophie Milman, who has shared the bill with Kaeshammer on numerous occasions. "He's a great piano player, he's a good singer, and he really entertains the crowd."

But as this solo tour progressed, Kaeshammer found that showing off wasn't the fun it used to be. "I started to notice that I wouldn't really get what I needed out of performing," he says. "I was seriously considering stopping performing, because I did not get happiness or joy out of it."

Instead, he took a break and went to visit some friends in New Orleans. One, a pianist named Joshua Paxton, asked a favour: Would Kaeshammer mind filling in for him behind blues singer Marva Wright? "At the time, I didn't have anything else on the horizon, and I was trying to find myself," Kaeshammer says. "So I said, 'Yeah, man. I'll stay.' And I stayed for seven months."

It changed his life.

At first Wright, who died last year at 62, wasn't much impressed with the young pianist. "She could tell that I wasn't playing from the right perspective," he says. "I was this kid who was just coming to show off or something."

Eventually, they grew close, and Wright introduced Kaeshammer to the lessons she'd gleaned from listening to and studying gospel music. "It's not about what they're doing - it's about why, and who you are, and the message," he says. "And it changed me, as a person. I started living my life from a different angle."

Lovelight, the title track from his last album, was "about that exact experience with her." Even so, he says, his artistic rebirth wasn't as instantaneous as his road-to-Damascus story suggests. Even with what he'd learned from Wright, he still found himself feeling obliged to be the boogie-woogie hotshot he imagined his fans expected. "I had to learn to let that go," he says.

Letting go of such expectations has not only made his burden lighter artistically, but brought him closer to the audience. "He's a hard worker, but he's very light about it," says Milman. "He's singing, he's playing, and he's managing to engage the crowd in a meaningful way. And there's a bad show or there's a crowd that's not ideal, I don't think he lets it get to him."

"You work on your career, but it doesn't affect who I am any more," says Kaeshammer. "I'm a happier person than I've ever been. I just wake up every morning, and I just can't wait for my day."

Michael Kaeshammer plays Massey Hall in Toronto on Saturday; the Port Theatre in Nanaimo, B.C., on May 17; and the Vogue Theatre in Vancouver on May 18.

Frampton Comes Alive, Again: How Classic Rock Albums Are Finding New Life On The Road

Source: www.globeandmail.com - Brad Wheeler

(Apr 29, 2011) When Paul Simon was asked recently about the life expectancy of the LP, he told The Globe and Mail that the album was fine, that it wasn't going anywhere. But Simon was wrong. The album is most definitely going places - to Massey Hall, to the Beacon Theatre, to Montreal's Osheaga festival and beyond. The album, like Peter Frampton and zombies, has come alive.

It was announced this month that Frampton will celebrate the 35th anniversary of the release of his breakthrough
Frampton Comes Alive. A tour will see the double album performed in its entirety, front to back, with the 61-year-old squawking on his talk box like Stephen Hawking. The only thing missing will be the British singer-guitarist's silky seventies-styled shirt and his even silkier hair - "shadows grow so long before my eyes."

So, many of those fans who loved his way in 1976, will see and hear that vintage again. And it's not just Frampton's album that's receiving birthday wishes and happy-anniversary serenades of late. The Pixies have performed its iconic 1989 alt-rock classic Doolittle since 2009. The Allman Brothers blew out 40 candles and revisited 1971's At Fillmore East last month in New York, and Rush feted its Moving Pictures album with a 30-year-anniversary tour.

As classic rock ages as a genre, it passes milestones and recognizes big birthdays across the board. What better way to celebrate the memory and to push sales of the inevitable anniversary reissue album - oh, if only we could all be as easily remastered - than to perform the disc as it is most fondly remembered, full-through and its original running order?

"It's a step back in time," says David Lovering, the Pixies drummer. "It's one city, one-night only." The Pixies actually played Doolittle for two sold-out nights at Toronto's Massey Hall last week and a pair of shows at Vancouver's Orpheum Theatre on May 3 and 4, but who's counting?

Well, ticket-receipt counters are counting, that's who. With sales of recorded music dropping, touring is relied upon more than ever as a source of revenue. The album as a concert piece - a classical music conceit - is a new weapon in an age where the live music calendar is more crowded than ever. Frampton, for example, basically brought a greatest hits package to Massey Hall last July. It's unlikely he would dare return this summer - to the much larger Molson Amphitheatre, no less - without a new sort of show. "I think a lot of bands are afraid to admit that their source of income now is the live touring," says Pixies guitarist Joey Santiago. "But it's pretty apparent to everyone."

The Pixies reunited in 2004. To freshen up its long-running reunion tour in 2009, the idea was hatched to perform Doolittle as a 20th-anniversary revisiting. Records have been performed live before, but they often involved conceptual albums - so-called rock operas such as the Who's Tommy and Quadrophenia, Genesis's The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway or Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall. Floyd's Roger Waters has toured both those albums in recent years; The Who's Roger Daltrey just announced a British tour of Tommy.

The Pixies' Doolittle is certainly album-orientated - "It's a complete record," says Santiago - but it's not a conceptual piece in the sense that it cries out for a track-by-track retelling. The truth is, for all the reverence the album format is paid by artists, once the thing is recorded, it's pretty much abandoned. Yes, on its Zoo TV tour in the early 1990s, U2 played a set sequence of tracks from its Achtung Baby album, and Elton John's shows following the release of 2004's Peachtree Road did the same. Brian Wilson actually previewed 2004's Smile on stage before its official release. But those are rare exceptions. Concerts supporting new albums routinely feature only a smattering of that record's material, dispersed among classic material. As Simon told Uncut magazine: "I'm generally enthusiastic when I'm working on [an album] and when I immediately finish, I'm enthusiastic. Shortly after that, I don't want to hear it."

That kind of thinking seems to be changing. "If it sounds good when you play it, and you are really proud of playing it, then go play it," reasons Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters. That band has been performing its new Wasting Light album in its entirety, albeit in a promotional capacity. "I really think it's got people more excited about this album."

For the moment though, the full-album concert is more often going to be a revisit, whether it be Wilson (Pet Sounds), Van Morrison (Astral Weeks), Styx (The Grand Illusion and Pieces of Eight) or Steely Dan and Bruce Springsteen (past albums in a repertory theatre style). "The familiarity makes it very comfortable and enjoyable and easy to listen to," says Pixies' Lovering. "It translates well to the audience."

Even Mick Jagger, hardly one given to nostalgic pining, is coming around. "The idea to play Exile in its entirety struck me as interesting," the singer told The Wall Street Journal. "Sort of like what if Beethoven had his Ninth Symphony, but didn't bother to play it." To mark the last year's release an expanded Exile on Main Street, the Rolling Stones briefly considered a tour during which they'd play the entire album. It didn't happen. Though Jagger found the idea intriguing, he wasn't sure a vast audience would. "Some people might think it's great," he said. "Others would be bored to death."

Perhaps so. And perhaps the artists themselves, especially the forward-looking ones, would be bored. "I don't know that a band should get overly involved in the business of defining its own epochs," says the songwriting singer Gord Downie. His Tragically Hip is set to play Montreal's Osheaga Music and Arts Festival this summer with the Flaming Lips, who'll present its 1999 album The Soft Bulletin there in its entirety. But Downie doesn't completely dismiss the idea of performing records fully and completely. "As long as you're giving the audience what you want, and emotionally and artistically and soulfully at that, you'll be good and true - maybe even entertaining."

Eminem Makes Music History

Source: www.hypemagazine.co.za/

(May 4, 2011) Detroit MC and music producer, Marshall "Eminem" Mathers recently made RIAA sales certification history by becoming the first rap act to have 2 consecutive albums go diamond. Diamond?

According to the Recording Industry Association of America, Eminem's "Marshall Mathers LP" released in May 2000 finally stands at 10 Million albums sold in the United States alone. This makes Em' the only rap artist ever to have more than one album to his catalogue with such an RIAA certification. Eminem's 2002 album, The Eminem Show also sold over 10 Million records in the US and over 20 Million records worldwide.

Other Diamond selling rap albums include:
- Notorious BIG (Life After Death, 1997)
- Outkast (Speakerboxx/ Love Below, 2003)
- 50 Cent (Get Rich Or Die Tryin, 2003)
- MC Hammer (Hammer Don’t Hurt Em, 1990)
- The Beastie Boys (Licence To Ill, 1986)
- Will Smith (Big Willie Style, 1997)
- Nelly (Country Grammar, 2000)
- Lauryn Hill (The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill, 1997)
- Tupac (All Eyes On Me, 1996)
- 50 Cent (St Valentines Day Massacre, 2005)

*All on worldwide sales*

This significantly puts record producer and rapper, Dr Dre on a class by himself - producing more Multi-platinum rap albums than any other Executive Producer in music history.

Dan Hill And Manny Pacquiao: How A Knockout Duet Came To Life

Source: www.globeandmail.com -
The Associated Press

(May 3, 2011) Dan Hill - Nov. 3, 2009: My home in Toronto; “Oh my god, Dan! Get up here. Now!”

I’m in my basement studio, cutting a vocal, when my wife’s shout all but shatters my headphones. The last time Bev shrieked this loud was a life-and-death situation, when a young man, armed and recently released from jail, had tried to shake our family down for money.

This time, though, I find Bev hopping up and down in front of the television like a tween watching Justin Bieber. A charismatic young man is singing to talk-show host Jimmy Kimmel’s studio audience. Women of all ages squirm, whoop and howl.

At last Bev says dreamily, “It’s Manny Pacquiao, the boxing champ. But don’t you recognize the song?”

It’s my song Sometimes When We Touch, and the audience is going crazy. Crazier still, is that Pacquiao – a Filipino pound for pound regarded as the world’s best boxer – is crooning this song with surprising tenderness and conviction.

Since I co-wrote and released that song in the late seventies, there have been thousands of covers of it, and most have left me underwhelmed. Because of the song’s uber-emotionality and demanding vocal range, pop stars tend to over-sing it, turning the lyric into a four-minute soap opera. But something about Pacquiao’s vocal leaves me strangely moved.

Two weeks later, Nashville

I’m in a deli with Fred Mollin, my long-time friend and co-producer. I casually flip open my computer and click on “Manny Sings.” Fred becomes glued to the screen.

Eerily, at this very moment, a TV mounted on the wall spews out news of an upcoming boxing match between Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather.

“We’ve gotta make a record with Manny,” Fred says.

“And who, other than God, is able to actually contact Manny Pacquiao?” I ask. “This guy is the Elvis of the boxing world. Did you know that whenever Manny boxes, crime stops in the Philippines? He’s even been elected to Congress there. He’s got about as much free time to record with me as Barack Obama.”

December, 2010: Toronto

A phone call wakes me in the middle of the night. It’s Matthew McCauley, the other half (with Fred Mollin) of my production team. If it were anyone else, I’d be mad as hell. But I’ve been waking up to Matt’s 3 a.m. phone calls since we were both scrawny Toronto kids making music together in the 1960s in our Don Mills neighbourhood.

“Danny, I’ve set up a meeting with Manny Pacquiao and his handler, Mike Koncz. We’re going to Manhattan to discuss making a record.”

June 4, 2010: New York

I’m sitting in a café with Matt and Fred, in Manhattan’s opulent St. Regis Hotel. My friends wear the gloomy look of adolescents stood up by their dream dates. We’ve been here for a couple of hours.

“What if Manny doesn’t show up?” Fred asks.

Matt shuffles restlessly in his seat, doubtless feeling responsible.

“Look, guys, they’ll be here,” Matt says. “We’re on boxing time, that’s all.”

A few more lonely minutes tick by, then Koncz finally appears to escort us to Manny’s suite. Just as he reveals that Sometimes When We Touch is Pacquiao’s all-time favourite song, the door to the suite swings open, and there is the man himself, beaming as he greets us in a soft voice.

Though I’m thunderstruck to be meeting this brilliant boxer – in town to accept a Fighter of the Decade award – Pacquiao humbly flips the script, making us feel as though we’re royalty. Or better: family.

Room service wheels in a feast, and he insists we eat. “It’s part of Filipino culture to make guests feel at home,” he says.

As we dig in, Matt cuts to the point: We want to record a Sometimes When We Touch duet with him.

“We were all so struck by the sincerity of your cover,” I venture.

Barely a beat later, Pacquiao replies with a boyish grin: “When can we get started?”

While the others work out the details, Pacquiao and I talk about the similarities of singing and boxing – the importance of rhythm and breathing, discipline and devotion.

But clearly, the last thing Pacquiao wants to dwell on is boxing. He’d rather talk music and family.

“I never talk to my children about boxing,” he says wistfully. “There are no photos, trophies – nothing in my house exposes them to my career in the ring.” His face clouds over as he recounts what a brutal sport boxing is, and how he started at age 14 (the same age I began writing songs) as a means of supporting his mother and siblings.

Then he quickly jumps back to music, his face brightening. “I sing my children to sleep every night,” he says.

Moments later, he disappears down the hall to his bedroom to rest. Music flows from his room into our sitting area. To my stupefaction, it’s a song from my new CD. I can hear Pacquiao gently singing along to my lyrics.

October, 2010, Capitol Recording Studios: Hollywood

“Hi, Danny.”

I somehow hear the shyest voice above the chatter of the room. Pacquiao is waving and smiling in the midst of his entourage. Dashing to the studio on the heels of a punishing 12-hour training session, he is still dressed in workout clothes, preparing for his fight with Antonio Margarito.

Within minutes, Pacquiao and I are singing together at the same mike. He is blessed with a superb musical ear and a champion’s ability to hyper-focus; despite cameras whirring, people whispering and makeup artists hovering, he loses himself in the song.

The few suggestions I toss his way – “Drink more water, swirl it around in your throat,” “Take a breath, less vibrato,” “End your vocal phrases sooner” – he quickly absorbs. He takes every vocal line I throw at him and sings it back better than I’ve sung it.

Still, I wonder if he’ll be able to nail “I wanna hold you till the fear in me subsides,” with the impossibly high-pitched and sustained “subsides” that ends the song. He does – then pumps his fist in triumph as if he’s delivered a knockout punch.

Weeks later, I’m alone in my basement studio, locking into Pacquiao’s vocal and carving out harmonies. I feel as though I have slipped beneath his skin, that we are one. The afterglow leaves me floating for days.

April 20, 2011: Los Angeles

Pacquiao enters a press conference waving a copy of our CD. Befuddled journalists across North America (CNN, Los Angeles Times, Showtime) try to make sense of why the world’s best boxer would collaborate with the world’s most sentimental songwriter.

And the spoofs and questions begin: Funny or Die releases a video called Sometimes When I Punch. I’m even accused of being bought by Top Rank Boxing, the promo company that handles Pacquiao (remember, I sought him out).

Frankly, this is the wildest roller coaster I’ve ever been on. All I can do is hang on, be in Pacquiao’s “musical corner” and take the hype in stride.

May 1, 2011: Las Vegas

I’ve just flown into Vegas. Pacquiao fights Sugar Shane Mosley here on Saturday and he generously gave me two tickets. But I can’t bring myself to go. I don’t care if he’s the world’s greatest boxer, he’s my friend – and I don’t like watching my friends fight. However, following his fight, I will be singing Sometimes When We Touch with him in a Las Vegas nightclub.

Will we spar when Pacquiao sings the lines “a hesitant prizefighter, still trapped within my youth?”

Let’s put it this way, Pacquiao is an infinitely better singer than I am a boxer.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Montreal's Potvin Loses The Blues

Source: www.globeandmail.com - By Brad Wheeler

(May 4, 2011) All blues and no play made for an unfulfilled Roxanne Potvin. Her smart and sassy new album Play, though, finds the Montreal-based artist pushing new buttons and continuing her evolution from a stylish, bluesy guitar slinger to a more tuneful pop-orientated performer. The disc's dozen tunes are free-spirited and varied, with a catwalk-sauntering cover of an old Right Said Fred hit from 1992 revealing Potvin as too sexy for her blues (too sexy for her bilingual blues), but never repeating herself.

The Songs

The country-souled Barricades refers to Toronto's cordoned-off G20 conference - "They can go to hell with their fences" - but it could just as easily apply to Potvin's own stylistic walls. Same with the Nancy Sinatra-fashioned garage-rock plea of Let Me Go. "I had to explore, says the 29-year-old artist, whose lyrics are newly image-laden. "I could have continued in the blues niche, but I felt I had to follow that feeling to grow and do something else."

The Influences

Potvin's evolution in songwriting mirrors her own expanding listening tastes. Her first two albums were marked by lady-sings-the-blues covers and relationship-based originals. "I was listening to blues and R&B, and I was learning to write," she recalls. More recently she's hip to Beck - check out the watery Coral Reef Fishes - and the Who. "I wanted to wreck my guitar like Pete Townshend," says Potvin, who wrote and recorded demos in her kitchen. And so the racing swagger of Let Me Go culminates in a crashing heap of discord.

The Producer

Vancouver's Steve Dawson is a Juno-winning roots-music producer, not known for the like of Potvin's radio-friendly Born to Win or the sublime haze of Donnes ton mal, let alone the romping Dis-moi que tu m'aimes. "I thought it would be interesting for both of us," Dawson says. "Short pop tunes is not something I normally do." The trick was to encourage Potvin's adventurism without calling too much attention to it. "I wanted to keep an organic approach to the process. I think the integrity and honesty of the music comes through regardless."

The Cover Tune

Potvin considered a version of Siouxsie and the Banshees' Swimming Horses, but settled on a sex-kitten reading of I'm Too Sexy. "Steve [Dawson] asked me if I really wanted to do it," Potvin says of her unlikely choice. "He thought everybody would talk about that song and skip over the rest." As it turned out, the cheeky cover worked, but not to any overshadowing effect. The rest of the material is simply too good for that.

Roxanne Potvin plays Hamilton's Pearl Company on Wednesday, Toronto's Rivoli on Thursday and London, Ont.'s London Music Club Friday.

Al Jarreau Lives (Still) To Sing

Source: www.thestar.com - By Ashante Infantry

(May 04, 2011) If last summer's intensive-care stint didn't make Toronto fans wonder whether they'd ever see Al Jarreau perform here again, the singer's recently rumoured death — with a headlining gig at Jazz Lives pending this week — certainly gave them pause.

The “Wikipedia prank” triggered an April 27 posting on the 71-year-old California-based artist's website that “rumours of my demise have been greatly exaggerated.” It was a mirthful Jarreau with whom the Star spoke days later, on the eve of his first Toronto show in 15 years.

“I'm doing pretty darn good ... geezering right along, my darling,” he joked.

The only vocalist to win Grammys in three different categories — pop, R&B, jazz — Jarreau still tours regularly and is working on an album of new music. In between, he had time for a few of our questions.

What was behind that health scare in France last July?

I had some difficulty breathing and the doctors discovered there were some misfiring cells in my heart that had probably been doing that for the last three or four years. Within 35 minutes they fixed it.

Did you have to make any lifestyle changes?

Just a few: I'm eating a little different and resting a little different. I was never a heavy smoker, but I'm a non-smoker now, that's a serious change. I cold-turkeyed that bad boy. Certainly my lungs are happier, my whole cardiovascular is happier. I'm waiting for some great change in my vocal chord, like I'm going to get another octave, but that hasn't happened yet.

Has your voice changed because of general wear and tear over the years?

My lows are deeper and richer and my highs are not there like they used to be. I'm naturally a baritone, but I've pushed my range to alto and part of the wear and tear is pushing your voice into registers that your voice is really not designed to sing in. We're just releasing a 1965 recording I did with George Duke at the Half Note in San Francisco; you're going to hear an Al Jarreau on there whose voice is so high and sweet you'd think I was a boy soprano. I was 25.

Is it frustrating not to be able to hit those highs anymore?

You don't spend a lot of time struggling for the highs, you just go to the other areas of your throat that work comfortably ... a whole other world opening up if you reach for it with the other part of your range.

You've dedicated time to judging and mentoring young singers, talent aside, what distinguishes the good ones?

A really deep and sincere love for the craft and for the work. That's what will sustain you in a changing world with a different kind of appreciation for music. Kids are listening to music through little buds in their ears and while they're doing something else. That ain't an audience. So, the new performer has to understand that that's who he's trying to appeal to and may never reach.

Has your passion for music ever waned?

Never. Maybe because it didn't happen for me real early on. I did my first album when I was 35 and, at that point, I'd been singing since I was four years old. I'd found the love and the passion for the music and that special relationship with the person sitting out there listening to what you do, who smiles and who laughs with you and who claps at the end of a song. I was saved from that thing of having a success in your life before you discover that part of the relationship between oneself and the music. I went to school and became a social worker and realized I could be a social worker by day and do music in the evening. I did that for four years and vowed that I would do it that way the rest of my life if need be.

Just the Facts

WHAT: Jazz Lives featuring

Al Jarreau, Randy Brecker, Karrin Allyson and Joey De Francesco

WHERE: Convocation Hall, 31 King's College Circle.

WHEN: Thursday @ 8 p.m.

TICKETS: $20-$80 at

www.uofttix.ca or 416-978-8849

MUSIC TIDBITS

Black Eyed Peas Announce Free Concert in NYC

Source:  www.eurweb.com

(May 2, 2011) *The
Black Eyed Peas will hold a free concert in New York City’s Central Park on June 9. The show — dubbed “Concert 4 NYC” — will benefit the Robin Hood Foundation, a charity targeting poverty in NYC, reports the AP. Although the show is free, concertgoers must have tickets to enter. More than 50,000 tickets are available through an online giveaway. VIP tickets will also be sold online. Robin Hood’s partnership with the multiplatinum foursome includes funding to launch three Peapod Academies. The school is an arts center for teenagers started by the Black Eyed Peas.

Music Video: Keke Wyatt and Ruben Studdard Re-do ‘Saturday Love’

Source:  www.eurweb.com

(May 1, 2011) *
Keke Wyatt and Ruben Studdard have hooked up to do a cover of Cherrelle and Alexander O’Neal’s “Saturday Love” for “Unbelievable,” Wyatt’s new CD. Even though the two do a good job on the song, it still makes you wonder who thought this was a good idea. We look forward to finding out your thoughts.

 

Reunited New Edition at ESSENCE Music Fest

Source: www.eurweb.com

(May 4, 2011) *The annual ESSENCE Music Festival is just around the corner and guess whose going to be there? New Edition! Yep, Bobby Brown, Jonny Gill, Ralph Tresvant, Michael Bivins, Ricky Bell and Ronnie DeVoe will be on stage together singing their classics to the world to celebrate their 30th anniversary. This will be the first time the group has performed together (with all the members) since 1996. “This is just the beginning,” said Bell. “We’re preparing for a world tour and many other exciting things that we’ll be announcing soon. The next chapter of New Edition is going to be an incredible celebration to thank our fans for all of their support over the last 30 years.”

::FILM NEWS::

Family Portrait: Black Orphans Find A Home In Ukraine

Source: www.thestar.com - By Peter Howell

(Apr 29, 2011) It started with an article in a Moscow newspaper.

Vancouver documentarian Julia Ivanova was in Russia, her birth country, doing a film for CBC Newsworld. She happened to read a news report about a 50-something Ukrainian woman, Olga Nenya, who was raising a brood of 16 black children on her own.

This would be unusual anywhere, but especially so in Ukraine, where non-whites are rarely seen. Ignorance breeds racism, and Nenya and her charges have experienced a lot of that, even from their next-door neighbours. The determined Nenya has also had to put up with harassment from civic officials and with the increasingly restlessness of her rapidly growing kids.

Ivanova, 46, and her producer brother Boris Ivanov, 36, decided they had to tell Nenya's story.

The result is
Family Portrait in Black and White, which has its Canadian premiere at Hot Docs on Monday, the first of three screenings at the fest.

Family Portrait had its world premiere at Sundance in January, where Ivanova spoke to The Star.

Q. What was it about Olga that made her interesting to you?

A. I always make films about people and I love making films about minorities. What was important is these bi-racial children are visible minorities, which is way different in Europe than it is in Canada. Black people didn't even come to the Soviet Union until 1957.

What is interesting about these children is that they don't know their parents, especially their fathers, who have African backgrounds. These children have no idea about anything related to black culture. They're 100 per cent Ukrainian or 100 per cent Russian, but the society doesn't see them this way because of their skin colour.

Q. What are the circumstances of their birth in Ukraine?

A. The fathers are students from Africa who came to Ukraine to study to be doctors and engineers. In the Soviet Union, the level of education is very high and the costs are very low. So it is a smart idea for the families that can afford it to send their children to study in Ukraine and then come back and become doctors and engineers. Mostly males go to study.

So they're young and they meet with local girls and they have romantic relationships.

Q. How does Olga get the children?

A. Olga is a foster mother. She became a foster mother even before she started to raise mixed-race children. She worked in a chemical plant, and because it's chemicals, her retirement age was 40 or 42 years old.

She's about 54 now. So when she was 40, she was full of energy and had loved children all her life — she had two daughters with her husband — and she started to bring children from different orphanages and different families, becoming a foster mother. Then she brought one black child home and another one and she likes black children. She thinks it is extremely unfair that because of racism no one will adopt these children, no matter how cute or smart or whatever they are.

Q. What would happen to the children otherwise? Would they be on the street or in orphanages?

A. There are no children on the streets. All children are in the orphanages. Orphanages that I visited were pretty good. They are well-fed, they are taken good care of, but it's an institution. An institution, by definition, is not the right environment for the child to be raised because there's no concept of family and no mother.

Olga gives them a mother figure and the experience of living in a family. It's not a perfect family, and she's not a perfect mother. but I don't know many people who'd say their mother was perfect . . . Now, they've all become teenagers at the same time, and that's a huge conflict and a huge issue and I appeared at their house when it all started and then I came back twice, so I caught this tension between the mother and the teenagers.

Q. What do you make of Olga? A lot of people might think she's almost mentally ill because she wants so many kids.

A. I think that she is my hero because she does such a great thing for these children by providing them with a family and taking them to a place — a small village — where they don't develop complexes of being minorities and being victimized. At the same time, she's a very complex person. So she does many things that I disagree with, like not allowing international adoption and controlling the choices the children make — to such a point that they are not allowed to make any choices for themselves. But I still think the alternative is worse, because the alternative is to be in the institution.

Q. What do you hope your film will achieve?

A. I hope this film will bring exposure to this family. I hope there will be people in the Western world who would want to support these children — either individually or as a whole. Because we shouldn't forget they're foster children, so after leaving this household at 18, they'll receive no support from anybody. I also hope that the film will actually shame Ukrainian authorities for their inaction.

Family Portrait in Black and White screens Monday May 2 at 6.45 at the Cumberland; Wednesday May 4 at 4.30 p.m. at the TIFF Bell Lightbox; and Sunday May 8 at 3.30 p.m. at the Lightbox.

Video Interview: Sanaa Lathan Tells of Her Days As a Maid

Source:  www.eurweb.com

(May 2, 2011) *Who would have thunk the beautiful
Sanaa Lathan was a day labourer before she made it big time. She told Black Enterprise that she did house cleaning before she became an actress. She said she had no shame in her game.

“I was a maid,” she proudly admitted. “My grandmother had an older man friend that lived in the building with us, and I would go over and clean his apartment when I was 13-years-old. He would give me like $30.”

“I was trying to make that cash,” she continued. “I didn’t have a problem with it. I think that there’s no shame in making a living, and getting money by honest means. So I would just say, do what you have to do, but do it honestly. Go after your dream, but there’s nothing wrong with making money with a regular job.”

Now she’s sort of returning to her roots and will be playing the role of a maid in the Broadway play, “By the Way, Meet Vera Stark.”

Watch as Sanaa talks about doing maid work before her acting career:

Director Steve James: Stopping Violence By Interrupting It

Source:  www.globeandmail.com - By Guy Dixon

(May 2, 2011) In Chicago's roughest neighbourhoods, you'll find the
Violence Interrupters - not a superhero team, but real heroes who physically put themselves in the middle of violent confrontations and try to talk both sides down.

Filmmaker Steve James, the director of 1994's critically acclaimed Hoop Dreams, follows the non-violence workers in his new documentary
The Interrupters, which is screening at the Hot Docs documentary festival in Toronto. Many of them are former gang members. Some view the media and its sensationalism toward crime in African-American neighbourhoods as part of the problem. At first, they were a little leery of James's intentions.

Were there similarities in how you gained the Interrupters' trust and how they have to gain the trust of violent young people and gang members?

It was a combination of being around, putting in the time, and earning the support of the Interrupters we were following, which allowed them to be comfortable enough to let us follow certain situations.

Was there concern, given that you're not from the same background, about you not getting it right?

Initially Ameena Matthews - the daughter of prominent gang leader Jeff Fort and a former gang member herself - wondered, "What do they really want here?" She was used to dealing with local media doing a news story about a murder or something, and she might get interviewed. So she had a certain expectation of what media's interested in and not interested in. So there was this process, and I think she finally got that... we didn't just want mediations, we wanted to understand what led people to this place. It went a long way to building that trust.

And presumably the Interrupters wanted to get the message out about what they are doing?

Absolutely. The thing they are most proud of is to push this issue a little more front and centre in the public eye. There's been this sense that murders in the United States in major cities have declined since their peak in the 1990s, which is great news. But there's still a persistently high murder rate, and there's been a sense that we've done all we can do. And they think there's still a lot more work to be done. It's complicated in terms of what else is going on in these communities. It's not a hopeless situation.


Are you ever surprised by the ease people have, letting their life spill out in front of a camera?

I get that question a lot: There's one school which is that you try to be as completely unobtrusive as possible, like the old adage "a fly on the wall." You hang back, zoom in and try to make people completely forget about you. My approach over the years has been of a different camp: I believe people never forget the camera's there, but if you get to a level where you're not treating it like a big deal and you keep yourself as humble as possible, people have a level of comfort that allows them to be themselves. In these situations in the film, people are so upset that that trumps all those other concerns. There's no question the camera changes reality in some way. How can it not? I like to think, though, that what you get isn't any less true.

Do some people play up more for the camera? In one instance, you film a violent young man who is held back, as the sisters of a man he beat up become threatening.

I don't think that was for the camera, because that behaviour he's exhibiting is exactly the kind of behaviour the Interrupters will tell you is the biggest problem on the street - which is that people feel like they can't back down from anything, that whenever they are challenged they have to meet that challenge. And of course, that guy, who's a big strong guy, he's not going to let some women, in his view, have the last word there. I mean, how would that look in his neighbourhood?

Bad stuff happens to people, and it doesn't seem to matter if we're making a film about it. Institutions stick-kick a kid out of high school, or a kid still goes to prison. The social forces are so great in people's lives. I think where the camera's most powerful with this film is in making the police disappear. When we were out filming The Interrupters and the police were very curious about what we were doing, if I pointed the camera at the cops, they'd just leave, because they didn't want to be on camera.

Really?

We had a situation, which we didn't get into the film, where we were out filming in the neighbourhood with two Interrupters, and we stopped at a gas station. And we were sitting outside the car, two white guys and two black guys. And a cop pulled up, and he made an assessment that something illegal was probably going on, probably one of these stolen credit-card frauds at the pump. So he pulls up and another cop car pulls up, and they are going to arrest us, saying there's some disturbance at the pump. But nothing had happened, we were just talking.

I went and got the camera out of the truck. They said, "What's going on?" And I said, "Well, we're doing this documentary. If there's a problem here, I want to document what's going to happen." And he immediately got back in his car, the other car took off, and that was that. The joke was that the Interrupters need to have a camera in the trunks of all their cars.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

The Interrupters is screening on Thursday, May 5, at 6 p.m. at the Cumberland, and Saturday, May 7 at 5:45 p.m. at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto.

Something Borrowed: The Chick Flick’s Back And Meaner Than Ever

Source:  www.globeandmail.com - Lynn Crosbie

(May 2, 2011) The tag line: “How Do You Choose Between Your Best Friend and True Love?”

This Friday, with the release of
Something Borrowed (based on Emily Giffin’s 2004 bestseller), the chick flick is back with a vengeance.

And with it, still more girl-on-girl loathing, seeping like cyanide gas from the confectionery sugar that is the poppy, happy film.

I have only seen the movie’s trailer (try to tell me that’s not enough!) but have read, during a particularly loathsome convalescence, the dusty-rose-coloured Giffin book, the premise of which frightened me.

Let’s go back to the tag line. What if the question posited were How Do You Choose Between Killing a Man and a Bag of Diamonds?

These are not hard decisions: Consider Spinoza on the toxicity of immoderate desires, or acquire a mere speck of ethics – you will always make the right choice.

Not so in chicksville: population, one adorable-yet-plain brunette, one sexy, blond raging narcissist. The choice that the two face? Well that’s the tricky part: Girl A, Rachel, played by the dumpy-attractive Ginnifer Goodwin, is the only one making choices, whereas Girl B, Darcy, played with wild-child fervour by Kate Hudson, merely exists to prove that all best friends are ultimately frenemies.

The situation is as follows: Darcy throws a 30th-birthday party for buttoned-down lawyer Rachel. An atmosphere of gloom about her being old, single and barren pervades the sexy proceedings, where PR girl Darcy dances on a table, shaking her hair like a fan of the hard-rock Whitesnake band.

Darcy’s irritated fiancé, Dex – whose obvious lobotomy is never spoken of – insists his sexy girlfriend leave so he can take off and have wild sex with her mopey best friend.

And there’s the conundrum.

Having slept with the feckless Dex, instead of waking up and turning herself over to the Sisterhood for a debriefing and corporal punishment (hair-pulling, slapping, cries of “fat tacky Judas!”), Rachel proceeds, like the evil lawyer she is, to justify her actions as well as, appallingly, continuing a hot flirtation with Dex while she helps her BFF Darcy wedding-plan.

Darcy is a horrible person, the reasoning goes. Everything is just handed to her; she always wins! Such is the whining that passes for the reason of an educated mind.

Supporting her is “Ethan,” the ubiquitous chick-flick sexually ambivalent male friend, who exists to spur the heroine forward with the ardent insistence that she “deserves to be happy!”

Ethan is a plot device derived from legend and literature: He is Pandarus, the devious go-between, facilitating matters for lovers such as Troilus and Cressida in Shakespeare’s play, lovers who clearly should never have chosen true love.

In the Giffin franchise, he is utterly sinister: a snake pried from another legend, about temptation, sin and its consequences.

But if Ethan is Lucifer-ish, there are no consequences here. The story of a heartless woman’s betrayal of her friend is posited, dramatically, as a sort of All for Love tragic romance, but without playwright John Dryden’s thoroughly moral stance (regarding what he finds fundamentally repugnant about Antony and Cleopatra).

How is Something Borrowed a chick flick, since it’s the sort of story that gets your face slapped and extensions ripped out on the TV talk show Maury? Because women are hate-filled sexual competitors. So says pop cinema, from All About Eve through My Best Friend’s Wedding, and while the hate may be axiomatic, it is also only half the story.

Women, in fact, hate and love each other: Picture the twin serpents coiled around the short, winged staff that is the caduceus, and this is the very image of women’s complex, conflicting-yet-harmonious emotions, so often taking excitable flight. (I will leave you to interpret the short staff.) I am sure everything works out in the film, and that Goodwin, playing the exact same role she always does, gets the hot guy, because hot guys named Dex always disdain gorgeous exhibitionists and long for shy, homely girls.

It is hard to dignify plain jealousy, but one’s heart does tremble for the Rachels who are always on the outside, looking in.

This genre continues to attract fans because there are not a lot of Kate Hudsons around. Combine the attainable looks and charm of Goodwin with a ferocious sense of entitlement – since when do we “deserve” love, or other indulgences? How utterly un-romantic is this love and parity combo? – and you have a chick-flick heroine so very many women can look up to, as they sit scheming in the theatre, eating the XL-with-extra-butter popcorn because, “I had a brutal week and I deserve this!”

Have We Had Enough Of Superhero Movies?

Source:  www.thestar.com - By Raju Mudhar

(May 02, 2011) Here they come to save the day. Again. But can they
save the box office?

The latest wave of
superhero movies arrives Friday with Thor, followed in a month by X-Men: First Class, then Green Lantern and Captain America: The First Avenger.

It doesn’t end there. Down the line, watch for the next Spider-Man reboot, The Avengers, Batman and even Superman returning to the big screen. We’re about 15 years into a fan-boy Golden Age of comic-inspired movies, but each hero will have to use all of their powers to fight through the clutter and keep the caped crusaders flying as high as previous entries.

It’s not a sure thing. Last year, both Kick Ass and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World came with reams of love for their comic source material, but that didn’t translate into boffo box office.

Thor, Captain America and Green Lantern each have at least 50 years of comic history behind them, but they remain at best second-tier characters, who are not well known beyond hard-core comic audiences. And since X3 fizzled with fans, X-Men: First Class is a fresh start for the denizens of Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters.

Here’s our four-panel look at the factors that could determine how well these films fare with fans and the general audience.

Origins: The best thing going for all four of these films is that they are the character origin stories. Comics often go back to the well of these formative stories, as they are often the best ones to make and show the characters at their most human.

“It’s such a beautiful way to introduce the moviegoing audience to who that person is. We as comic book fans take it for granted that we know who Thor is. We know who Bruce Banner is and how he became the Hulk,” says David Hayter, screenwriter of X-Men, X2 and Watchmen. “The larger movie audience may not and the origin story is uniquely suited to introducing the character, and typically, for most, is one of their best, iconic stories.”

In Thor, the God of Thunder is cast out of Asgard and sent to Earth to learn what it means to be human. In Green Lantern, you’ve got a cocky character learning responsibility as he becomes a space cop for our sector of the universe. Captain America is about a weakling who becomes a living, breathing symbol of the American Dream. X-men: First Class moves the story back to the ’60s and examines how Professor Xavier and Magneto go from friends to foes over their differing beliefs on how mutantkind should deal with the rest of humanity.

Villains: In many ways, heroes are defined by their villains. From Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight to the recent success of animated films Despicable Me and Megamind, it’s the bad guys who have really been shining at the box office and often stealing the show.

For Thor, it’s all about Loki. The pictures released of Hugo Weaving’s Red Skull are already the most buzz worthy parts of the pre-release of Captain America. And Green Lantern has to fight Parallax, a space entity that threatens the entire universe.

As important as villains are, the most obvious pitfall is when a movie is overstuffed with bad guys (see Spider-Man sequels), and this could be a danger for these oncoming movies. Green Lantern’s trailers and images have shown Hector Hammond, an evil scientist who is mutated into having an abnormally large head. Thor will have to fight Frost Giants and also The Destroyer, an enchanted suit of armour created by Odin that follows whoever controls it. The lesson is to keep the hero-to-villain ratio as equal as possible.

Making it real: Thor is a God, so he runs against the same problem that Superman runs into: can people relate to a being of such power?

“With Thor, how do you put together a believable modern world with this overblown, Jack Kirby-created Asgardian fantasy? Both aspects are viable as a movie, but I gather (director Kenneth) Branagh puts both of them in the same movie. You’re really going to have suspend your disbelief,” says Mark Askwith, a producer at Space channel, who is also a well-known comics writer and expert. “In comics, we can accept that. In a movie that becomes a very difficult transition.”

Green Lantern faces the same difficulty, as the film moves between Earth and deep space. Askwith says he is intrigued by the idea of retro-heroism being used in Captain America and X-Men: First Class.

“Setting those films in periods, like the ’40s with Captain America, is really interesting. It allows them to tap into a history of heroism that might really work in tapping into people’s emotions. That’s always the key to these movies, that the emotions have to be real. You have to care and believe their struggles, even though they have powers.”

Hayter takes it further: “I think the key is taking whatever the mythology of the character is, and applying it metaphorically to our world, to our current issues as much as possible,” he says. “If you delve too far into fantasy you’ll lose a huge portion of the audience. The key is the balance between a story that genuinely says something and the fantastic effects and the massive scope.”

Too many heroes? “Can you have excitement fatigue?” asks Francis Manapul, a local comic-book artist who has drawn the Flash and Green Lantern. “I think people are looking forward to even some of these quote-unquote lesser-known characters on the big screen.”

Beyond competition with one another, there are also all the other summer blockbusters they need to fight against. In Australia, Thor opened up the same weekend as Fast Five, and the car-racing film dominated the opening weekend box office.

Worry not, though, for the God of Thunder. He’s got allies in the Marvel comics universe, with The Avengers just heading into production this week. No matter how Thor and the other heroes fare, we’ll be seeing their ilk on the screen for a long time to come.

Hot Docs: Chinese Adoptees Hunt For Answers, And Identity

Source:  www.thestar.com - By Linda Barnard

(May 02, 2011) “I’m a banana,” says smiling 13-year-old Haley early in
Somewhere Between, as she sits in her pretty purple bedroom in her family’s suburban Nashville, Tenn., home. “I’m yellow on the outside and white on the inside.”

Inspired by the adoption from China of her now 6-year-old daughter Ruby, Linda Goldstein Knowlton (The World According to Sesame Street) made Somewhere Between in part to explore what might lie ahead for Ruby as she grows up in America, facing difficult questions about her beginnings in life.

The emotional film (screening Tuesday at 10:30 a.m. at the ROM) is having its world premiere at Hot Docs and fits in well with Goldstein Knowlton’s girl-power sensibilities as a filmmaker — she was also the executive producer on the 2002 indie hit, Whale Rider.

She follows four teen girls from different parts of the U.S. as they begin to examine their place in the world and their beginnings in life. Like 150,000 Chinese babies whose birth parents were unable to keep them in the wake of China’s one-child policy, Haley, Ruby and thousands of other girls left their homeland as infants and are now part of the global community, including Canada.

Whether a girl grows up as the only Asian around, like Haley, or part of Berkeley’s rich cultural diversity, like 15-year-old Fang, a.k.a. “Jenni,” the girls occasionally struggle with identity. Jenna, 15, from Newburyport, Mass., explains she’s not “fully Chinese, not fully American,” but somewhere in between.

“It’s the balance between being a mother and a filmmaker,” Goldstein Knowlton admits. “It was most startlingly real when the girls were talking about their most difficult moments. The truth is we can’t control what our kids experience, as much as we want to as parents. The best we can do is try to hopefully prepare them.”

The teens talk about dealing with difficult issues for any adult, let alone a teen, such as abandonment. One was left at the side of the road by her brother, a note pinned to her shirt with her birth date. Others were taken to orphanages. And then there are issues around gender — they were left because they were girls — and the yearning to know who their birth families are.

“I appreciated these girls being so strikingly generous and open and I found it heartbreaking and empowering,” says Goldstein Knowlton.

Questions about who they are — even as they are surrounded by loving and supportive adoptive families — lead to the doc’s most dramatic moments, as Fang and Haley attempt to trace their roots, leading to an impossible and emotional reunion for one family.

“We were all shocked — over a billion people in China. It was an unlikely thing and it was a shocking experience,” says Goldstein Knowlton. “Even though you think about it and hope for it and you want it, it will always take a while to sink in, like anybody coming to terms with reality versus fantasy.”

Goldstein Knowlton found her four subjects through Chinese adoptee Jennifer Jue-Steuk, who has formed a group called Global Girls. The camera follows a gaggle of giggling Chinese-born teens at a meeting in Barcelona, where the international group’s accents and the languages spoken reflects their new reality — from Castilian Spanish to plummy English tones.

“I love that idea,” says Goldstein Knowlton of the international experience of the adoptees. “And it was a great opportunity to show it. Ruby Goldstein Knowlton is also Scottish and Irish and Jewish. A true citizen of the world.”

And since the film is also so personal, what does Goldstein Knowlton hope Ruby will glean from Somewhere Between once she’s old enough to see it?

“What I hope is that after she gets over being upset with me for showing her as an infant, that she’ll take it in with the love that I made it,” says Goldstein Knowlton, her eyes filling with tears.

“I hope it will do for her what the intention of the film is: that ‘There are girls like me and girls I can relate to and learn from and I’m part of a really interesting community.’”

Dwayne Johnson to Replace Terrence Howard in Charley Pride Biopic

Source: www.eurweb.com

(Apr 29, 2011) *Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has reportedly been cast in the long-in-the-works biopic of country music star Charley Pride.

Terrence Howard had originally been cast in the lead role, but he dropped out as the production stalled. But the project is back on track with Johnson in the lead role.

Pride confirmed the news in an interview with Canada’s Telegraph-Journal, saying, “(It) got fumbled… New management took over the studio that was ready to begin site work on it… And a decision was made to put all their resources behind thrillers – fast actioners. They felt that was where the big box office money was then.

“Now it’s back on track again but with action and comedy star Dwayne Johnson portraying me in the title role… Terrence, it seems, is tied up on other involvements for a few years.”

Pride has also given Johnson his full blessing, after initially having doubts about his ability to tackle the role.

“Terrence is no doubt a more in-depth actor academically, but Dwayne is such a force on screen,” he said. “It startled me a little at first, but he flew down to Dallas and spent a day with me just sitting, talking recently. And when he left it was like parting with an old friend. We had such similar views on so many things.”

Pride has sold more than 70 million records throughout his long-running career and remains the only African-American singer to be inducted into the Grand Ole Opry.

Preparing For A World Beyond Movie Theatres

Source: www.thestar.com - By Peter Howell

(Apr 29, 2011) The movies have always been in crisis.

From the moment Thomas Edison began the world’s first public film showings in 1894, using his projector precursor the Kinetoscope, there have been doubts about how best to draw an audience with the new medium.

The fretting continued through cinema’s first century and beyond, as purists and innovators debated the merits (and profits) of silent vs. sound, monochrome vs. colour and 2-D vs. 3-D. Whatever happens, we still keep going out to the movies.

Lately, though, it seems as if we really are on the brink of a major change in how we experience film. Judging by recent comments by two notable producers/distributors, Harvey Weinstein of The Weinstein Co. and Christine Vachon of Killer Films, we should all brace ourselves for a fast-approaching world beyond the theatrical release model that has defined cinema for much of its existence.

They spoke at separate events themed to independent film: Weinstein at TheWrap.com’s inaugural TheGrill@Tribeca conference and Vachon in her keynote State of Cinema address at the San Francisco International Film Festival. (Both are viewable online; I found Vachon’s via indieWIRE.com.)

They were asked to comment on recent trends in movie releasing, which lately has been all about “windows.” That’s the industry term for a film’s staged release pattern of theatrical followed by video on demand (VOD), DVD, pay TV and finally free TV.

For years, there has been a four-month gap between a film’s theatrical release and its next window, which at the moment is usually DVD. The gap has come under siege from DirecTV, a California firm that is offering a new product called Premium VOD, in which home viewers can download a film as early as two months after a theatrical release, viewing it at a price of $30 for a 48-hour rental.

Who would pay $30 for a home film rental? How about a young couple with kids, who could save on babysitting and parking, not to mention the pricey popcorn that is essential to exhibitors’ bottom lines?

Many of the major studios support Premium VOD, arguing it will help recoup profits lost by the fading of DVD as a popular format.

Many theatre owners and filmmakers don’t like the change, the latter including James Cameron, Peter Jackson, Kathryn Bigelow and Michael Bay, who were amongst the 23 signers of a recent petition defending “the moviegoing experience” against the threat of Premium VOD. They fear that theatres, for anything smaller than Avatar-sized blockbusters, couldn’t long survive a too-early release of movies to home TV screens.

But how early is too early? And would people ever really want to stop going to the movies, if only for the reasons of dating or just getting out of the house?

You might expect Weinstein and Vachon to be worried, since they represent many smaller films that already have a tough time getting theatrical distribution. Yet surprisingly, they seem open to VOD in all its forms.

“What it does is it winnows out some of the product,” Weinstein told TheWrap’s Sharon Waxman.

“There are some things that I love watching in a Premium VOD situation first, before it goes to the movie theatres, because it’s not going to sustain itself in the theatres. And it only takes up space . . . there are so many independent films, that it’s better they’re on VOD, which has an insatiable appetite for the stuff.”

Weinstein said the industry should at least “experiment” with Premium VOD. It can always go back to old ways if it proves damaging to theatrical.

Vachon was even more direct: early VOD is here to stay, so let’s make the best of it.

“I saw that (filmmakers’) petition with mixed feelings because . . . that train has left the station, the genie is out of the bottle. I kind of feel that’s not the conversation I want to have . . . I want to have the conversation about how do we engage an independent filmmaking community with its audience?”

That’s the million-dollar question, concerning not just independent films but also non-blockbuster studio movies. Or rather it’s the $32-billion question, which is the amount grossed worldwide last year by theatrical releases of all types of films.

Premium VOD isn’t an issue that immediately affects Canadians, said Cineplex’s Pat Marshall, because the service isn’t available here yet: “I think it’s just too early to speculate at this point.”

But it’s not too early to think about a world of movie watching beyond theatres and even TV sets, extending to smartphones, iPads and the like.

It’s a future that needs to be embraced, not feared, Vachon argues.

“We’re going to be consuming things in all different kinds of ways . . . I say to those of you who are primarily film consumers, be open-minded and be open-hearted about what you watch and what you see and where you go, you know? Because that’s really a defining thing right now.”

Hollywood Actor Jackie Cooper Dead At 88

Source: By Dean Goodman | Reuters 

(May 4, 2011) LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Actor Jackie Cooper, who survived a tumultuous childhood as an Oscar-nominated star to enjoy a varied career as a TV executive, director and "Superman" sidekick, died near Los Angeles, his attorney said on Wednesday. He was 88.

Cooper succumbed to complications of old age at a convalescent home in the coastal city of Santa Monica on Tuesday, attorney Roger Licht told Reuters.

He starred in more than 100 movies and TV shows before retiring from Hollywood more than 20 years ago. He retreated to a high-rise condominium with his third wife, Barbara, whom he credited for keeping him on the straight and narrow.

Cooper's life outside Hollywood was just as interesting. He served in the U.S. Navy during World War Two, and retired with the rank of captain from the reserves in the early 1980s. He also raced cars and owned racehorses.

He never really shed the pug nose and firm chin that endeared him to millions of Americans during the Great Depression, when he starred as a prominent cast member of Hal Roach's "Our Gang" short comedy films. At the twilight of his career, Cooper played grizzled Daily Planet editor Perry White in the 1978 "Superman" movie and its three sequels.

Born John Cooper, Jr. in Los Angeles, he was the illegitimate child of a sickly Italian mother who died when he was a teenager and a Jewish father who quickly abandoned the family. He got his start in Hollywood when his much-loathed grandmother dragged him around studio lots for day work as an extra.

His "Our Gang" work -- he appeared in such comedy shorts as "Teacher's Pet" and "Love Business" -- led to his starring role in the 1931 film "Skippy," an adaptation of the comic strip about a lively youngster.

In order to force him to cry for a scene, his grandmother dragged his dog off set and had it shot by a security guard. The boy duly cried, but remained hysterical even after it was revealed that the dog was not actually dead. Cooper titled his 1981 memoir "Please Don't Shoot My Dog."

Aged 9, he made Oscar history by becoming the youngest male performer to be nominated for a lead role. (He lost to Lionel Barrymore.)

Later in 1931, he co-starred in "The Champ" as the innocent son of a washed-up boxer played by Wallace Beery. The film was remade in 1979 with Rick Schroder as the tow-headed little boy. Cooper reunited with Beery in such films as "The Bowery" (1933) and "Treasure Island" (1934).

Off-screen, he fully enjoyed the fruits of stardom. By 18 he had become the lover of Joan Crawford, who was almost twice his age. But he was an old hand by then. He later recounted that when he was 13 he was having sex two or three times before 9 a.m. with a 20-year-old girl across the street.

His career inevitably dried up as he got older, and he had been divorced twice by the time he was in his early 30s.

Cooper won an Emmy for his title role as a Navy doctor in the sitcom "Hennessey" before becoming a vice president at Screen Gems during the 1960s, working on such shows as "Bewitched" and "Gidget." He turned to TV directing in the 1970s, winning Emmys for episodes of "M*A*S*H" and "The White Shadow."

His third wife, the former Barbara Kraus, died in 2009 after more than 50 years of marriage. He is survived by one of their three children, and by a namesake son from his first marriage.

(Reporting by Dean Goodman; editing by Jill Serjeant)

Stuart Townsend's Winding Road To Canada's Frigid Embrace

Source: www.globeandmail.com - By Andrew Ryan

(May 4, 2011) The career of Stuart Townsend has more bumps and twists than a shillelagh. The native of Howth, County Dublin, currently stars in the Canadian-made show XIII: The Series, but is likely better known for the ones that got away. After turns on the British stage and small parts in independent films, Townsend's profile rose by portraying the vampire Lestat in the 2002 film Queen of the Damned, which he promptly followed by playing Dorian Gray in the big-budget feature The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

Perhaps more famously, Townsend was cast to play the pivotal role of Aragorn in Peter Jackson's epic
The Lord of the Rings trilogy, but was mysteriously replaced by Viggo Mortenson a week into filming. Townsend was also booked to play Fandral in this week's big-screen rendition of Thor, but left the project three days before shooting began. In recent years, he had a guest role on the sitcom Will & Grace and played the paranormal reporter Carl Kolchak in ABC's short-lived 2005 remake of The Night Stalker. He also drew notice for writing and directing the 2007 feature Battle in Seattle, about the protests at the WTO conference of 1999.

The affable Irishman has been handed rich material in XIII. The series is based on a graphic novel and was previously made into a miniseries starring Val Kilmer. In the new series, Townsend plays the title role of XIII, an amnesiac secret agent who tries to unravel his past and ends up unravelling a government conspiracy on a global scale. Townsend spoke to us recently from Los Angeles.

Which came first for you when cast in XIII: Reading the graphic novel or watching the miniseries?

When it first came to me I didn't know anything about the graphic novel, even though part of the story was set in Ireland. My entry point was reading the script, which gave a very clear sense of who this guy was, even though he didn't know who he was. Only afterward did I get into the graphic novel and watch the miniseries.

Did the timing for a conspiracy-themed story feel right to you?

Right around the time we were shooting the series the whole WikiLeaks story was breaking in the news. Without giving too much away, we were right on top of that. The first few episodes are about my character finding out about his past, and as it goes along he realizes this conspiracy is much bigger than him. It's global and it's bad. The last few episodes became very current to what's going on in the world today. It felt like a living, breathing show as we were making it.

Was this your first time working in Canada?

I had filmed a pilot there once in the summer and I had been there for the Toronto film festival - all very nice and lovely weather. This was different. We started in September and went right through the grisly Canadian winter. There were days I don't even want to remember. The problem was my character couldn't wear a goose-down parka; he had to wear his little leather jacket - in minus 25 temperature. I would call it a character-building exercise.

Do you enjoy acting more than directing?

I love both, really. They're both difficult, to be honest, but at least in acting you're walking into something predesigned and everyone else has to do the work. With directing, you always have three or four things constantly on the go. It's a tough industry and a tough time, particularly if you're doing things a little outside the box or independent features.

Where is home for you?

Home is a relative concept for me. I've been in Los Angeles 10 years, and I definitely feel at home here, but I also feel at home in a lot of places. I'm not too attached to anywhere, really. Home is where the people you love are at the time. While I was shooting XIII, Toronto felt like home, because one of my best friends from Ireland lives there.

Was starring in ABC's Night Stalker your baptism by fire into network television?

It was different because once the show went on the air, everyone was immediately number-watching and number-crunching. I had never gone through that before, and it was a very difficult environment to work in. While shooting XIII, the joy of it was everyone knew we were going to make 13 episodes. On Night Stalker, we were on episode 10 and the producer walked in one day and said, 'We're done. That's it. Goodbye everybody.'

Were comparisons to the original Night Stalker series inevitable?

That's a tough thing. It's one of those things where you know you're going to be judged completely for all the wrong reasons. Of course we weren't going to do the original. For its time, the original show was great, but it was also cheesy and cultish. It just wouldn't stand up in today's marketplace. But everyone compared our version to the original, which was very unfair.

Did your guest arc on Will & Grace make you want to tackle more comedic roles?

I do love comedy, I have to say. That's one of the greatest things about being an actor: You get to try new things and play around in different genres. In that way I feel really blessed. There's not many occupations with that much diversity.

Has being Irish served you well in the film and TV business?

I don't really go around feeling very Irish at all. I don't go to Irish pubs. I've lived so many places and I'm still so curious about the bigger world. It's grand to be alive in a time when mobility is so accessible. Another benefit of acting is you get to live in different countries for three or four months at a time and you integrate into wherever you are. I don't really celebrate my Irishness, but get a few drinks in me and I turn very Irish.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

XIII airs Wednesdays on Showcase at 10 p.m.

FILM TIDBITS

Beauty Day Topping Early Polls At Hot Docs

Source:  www.thestar.com - By Linda Barnard

(May 02, 2011) As you head out to cast ballots today, Hot Docs is
reminding movie lovers to do the same for the People's Choice Award after screenings at the 18th annual fest. So far, Beauty Day, leads the balloting for the People's Choice prize. The doc is loving tribute to the original Jackass, Ralph Zavadil (better known by his fans as cable star Cap’n Video). It screens again Sat. May 7 at the Isabel Bader Theatre at 4:15 p.m.

Here's how the top 5 of the People's Choice polls stack up as of May 1 at 7 p.m. Go to www.hotdocs.ca for the full list.

1. Beauty Day

2. Mighty Jermome

3.
Mama Africa

4. Mothers of Bedford

5.
Battle for Brooklyn

Hot Docs, Blue Ice Film Launch $1-Million Fund For African Filmmakers

Source: www.globeandmail.com - The Canadian Press

(May 4, 2011) Canada's premier documentary festival is partnering with a Toronto-based film company to launch a $1-million fund for African movie-makers. The Hot Docs-Blue Ice Film Documentary Fund will support independent documentary filmmakers based in developing African countries. The fund was announced at the film festival's pitch forum. Officials say disbursements will be made over the next five years to projects in various stages of production. Grants will range from $10,000 to $40,000. The first application deadline will be this fall. Hot Docs, billed as North America's largest documentary festival, concludes Sunday. Hot Docs already administers the Shaw Media-Hot Docs Funds, which has given 54 Canadian projects more than $1 million in completion grants and $359,000 in no-interest development loans over the past three years.

Anthony Mackie Weighing Films Co-Starring Brad Pitt, Sean Penn

Source:  www.eurweb.com

(May 2, 2011) *
Anthony Mackie has scored an offer to star with Brad Pitt in “World War Z” and is under consideration to join “Gangster Squad” for Warner Bros., according to Variety. Marc Forster’s “World War Z” is based on the Max Brook’s novel about the world in the wake of a global zombie epidemic. Ruben Fleischer’s “Gangster Squad” deals with a 1940s crew of elite Los Angeles police officers. Ryan Gosling and Josh Brolin also star, in addition to Sean Penn. Mackie is currently filming “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” for Fox, and there is no confirmation on either bit of possible casting at present.

12-Year-old Jaden Smith Already a Millionaire

Source:  www.eurweb.com

(May 2, 2011) *It pays to be a child actor.  Clarification,  it pays to be
a child actor named Jaden Smith. If you haven’t heard, twelve-year-old Jaden made a grown man’s salary in the business with a $3 million paycheck for “Karate Kid.” According to reports, the young actor’s contract allotted him the amount in payments. The first instalment was $900,000 and the second was $100,000. The real money was made at the box office. The movie raked in more than $150 million, giving the underage star a $2 million bonus. And how many millions did your twelve-year-old bring home last year?

Michael Douglas Helps Raise Cash For Montreal Hospital That Diagnosed Cancer

Source: www.thestar.com - By The Canadian Press

(May 03, 2011) MONTREAL - Michael Douglas is giving back to the Montreal hospital that first detected his cancer — a disease others had missed. The Oscar-winning actor is headlining a posh fundraiser tonight in Montreal and is also mingling with well-heeled guests a downtown hotel. He was first diagnosed with throat cancer last summer at Montreal's Jewish General Hospital. Douglas sought treatment from several physicians for a constantly sore throat, but the illness was detected in Montreal. To show his gratitude, he offered to help the hospital raise money at the $375-a-head-gala. Last year, Douglas underwent radiation and chemotherapy treatments in the United States for a walnut-sized tumour he now says is gone. The 66-year-old and his wife, actress Catherine Zeta-Jones, own a vacation home near Mont-Tremblant, north of Montreal.

::TV NEWS::\

Character To Be Killed Off On Glee

Source: www.thestar.com - By Bang Showbiz, Jae C. Hong/AP

(Apr 28, 2011) Matthew Morrison has confirmed there will be a death on Glee.

After months of rumours that a character will die, the actor, who plays teacher Will Schuester in the hit musical show, revealed that someone unexpected will come to their demise and says the cast have already filmed the sad scenes at a funeral home.

He said: "Somebody's dying. Obviously I'm not going to tell you who it is, but it is no-one you would probably expect.

"The episode right before the finale is called 'Funeral'. We were actually at a funeral home yesterday, shooting all day. It was a very taxing day."

However, the star has told fans not to worry about him leaving the show, and denied that he is thinking of quitting.

While filming in New York this week he told reporters: "What is that? I don't know where the people get that stuff. No, [I'm] not at all [thinking of quitting]."

Meanwhile, extra Nicole Crowther, who was recently fired from the show for revealing spoilers from the upcoming prom episode, has said she regrets putting the details on micro-blogging website twitter.

She messaged her followers hinting at who would be prom king and queen, angering producer Brad Falchuck who told her she shouldn't expect to work in entertainment anymore.

She told the Los Angeles Times: "I had no idea it would blow up like this, I do regret it."

Scott Pelley To Replace Couric As CBS Anchor

Source: www.globeandmail.com - The Associated Press

(May 3, 2011) NEW YORK — CBS' new pick to anchor the evening news, Scott Pelley, said Tuesday that he'll bring his 60 Minutes sensibility to the job and will do his most important work behind the scenes to try to pull the program out of its years-long ratings slump.

Pelley, who has been at CBS since 1989, was named Tuesday to replace Katie Couric and will start in his new role June 6.

He said he instantly agreed when asked to fill the anchor seat that had been occupied by Walter Cronkite, Dan Rather and Bob Schieffer before Couric took over five years ago this fall. CBS has rarely been out of last place in the ratings over the past decade.

“The opportunity to lead the organization as managing editor of the evening news is something you aspire to, something you never believe you could actually achieve,” Pelley said in an interview Tuesday.

CBS hasn't set an exit date for Couric, who is expected to start a daytime talk show at either ABC or CBS. Her contract expires June 4.

Pelley, 53, has been at 60 Minutes since 2004, and he's won 14 Emmys and two Peabody awards. He joked that he had expected to stay at the job “all the way up to the mandatory retirement age of 95.”

Jeff Fager, the CBS News chairman and executive producer of 60 Minutes, said he thought it was important for CBS to choose a new anchor from within. Even as it has fallen on hard times, CBS News is filled with veterans who take the network's tradition dating back to Edward R. Murrow very seriously, and many of them never quite took to Couric.

“There's a great tradition here and I think Scott's a terrific symbol of that tradition,” Fager said. He called Pelley “as good a reporter as has ever worked at this network.”

Fager also said he expects to name a replacement for CBS Evening News executive producer Rick Kaplan soon.

Pelley said 60 Minutes gets many letters from viewers who say that they've been following an issue for a while but never truly understood what was going on until the newsmagazine did a story on it. He hopes viewers have the same attitude about evening news stories. Pelley will continue to do work for 60 Minutes, which has landed an interview with President Barack Obama to air this weekend.

60 Minutes airs on the same network, but its offices are across Manhattan's West 57th Street from the rest of the news division. The distance often seems greater than the ribbon of blacktop; Rather and Couric appeared on the program but weren't truly accepted there.

With Pelley and Fager — who produced the evening news during its last sustained period out of last place in the ratings, during the late 1990s — CBS is pushing for more cooperation from its broadcasts. If 60 Minutes has a good story, CBS's new bosses want the evening news to highlight and try to advance it.

Pelley said he wants an evening newscast known for original reporting, unique insight into the news, great storytelling and fairness to all involved. He said he's not passing judgment on how it's done now, since he watches only sporadically due to his travel schedule.

Pelley “is a great reporter and a real gentleman, who cares deeply about the news,” Couric said. “I know he'll put his own unique imprimatur on the broadcast and will do a great job carrying on the tradition of the CBS Evening News.”

The new anchor said he takes seriously his role as a leader and will push to make sure “there is CBS News DNA in every story.”

“The anchor piece is the least important thing I do every day,” he said. “It's the most visible, but it's the least important thing. The managing editor job is the most important at the end of the day.”

Like Rather and Schieffer, Pelley is a Texan. The San Antonio native began his career as a 15-year-old copyboy at the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal and worked as a local news reporter in Lubbock and Dallas before catching on with CBS.

Evening newscasts have steadily dwindled in importance over the past few generations, but on a typical evening more than 20 million people watch news summaries at ABC, CBS or NBC, far more than anything on cable news. Pelley has a challenge in front of him: The pecking order of NBC's Nightly News with Brian Williams in first and ABC's World News, for the past year with Diane Sawyer, in second, rarely changes.

“The last thing Scott needs from me is advice,” Williams said Tuesday. “Or packing instructions. He's a fellow road warrior and a first-rate journalist, and he's filling a great chair. All I can offer is a hearty welcome to a highly competitive time slot, along with my congratulations.”

If Pelley has a weakness in critics' eyes, it is that some see him as stiff and formal — the same things people said of Williams when he first started in 2004. Williams is now the subject of a New York magazine article on his comic stylings, and on Monday made a comfortable appearance on David Letterman's Late Show.

“I don't do comedy,” Pelley said, “although I appreciate Brian's comedy very much.”

He said he hoped viewers who don't know him well will understand him as much like themselves, as a person who came from a small town and modest circumstances. “I have lived the American dream that we all aspire to,” he said.

TV TIDBITS

A Bigger Role For One Of The Two And A Half Man

Source: www.thestar.com - Debra Yeo

(Apr 28, 2011) A story from The Hollywood Reporter punctures Charlie Sheen's ambitions to return to the sitcom he was fired from, Two and a Half Men.  Quoting sources, the magazine says series co-creator Chuck Lorre has no interest in meeting with Sheen and Warner Bros. is adamant Sheen won't be invited back. Instead, there's talk that Jon Cryer's role will be beefed up and a new character, yet to be cast, will be introduced.  Warner Bros. and CBS have to work fast, though, since the network is due to reveal its new and returning shows at so-called "upfront" presentations in May. Meanwhile, Sheen, still travelling around the U.S. on his "Violent Torpedo of Truth/Defeat Is Not an Option" tour, has started his own charity, called Sheen's Korner.  Sheen's rep told The Hollywood Reporter that proceeds from merchandise sales at the San Francisco show on Saturday will go to Brian Stow and his family. Stow, a San Francisco Giants fan, was beaten after the Los Angeles Dodgers season opener and is in a medical coma.

Betty White on Canada AM

Source:  www.thestar.com -
Debra Yeo

(May 02, 2011) Never mind Hot in Cleveland,
Betty White is still hot all over North America and beyond.  TVGuide.com says the 89-year-old will guest on CTV's Canada AM on Wednesday, live from New York, to talk about her new book. If You Ask Me, billed as a funny look at the past 15 years of White's life, due in stores Tuesday.  Canada AM airs weekdays at 6 a.m. As for White's hit comedy, Hot in Cleveland, its mid-season finale airs Thursday at 8:30 p.m. on CTV. White's character Elka goes to trial in the cliffhanger. And if you missed the first part of the finale, which aired last Thursday, you can catch up at www.ctv.ca. Hot in Cleveland, which co-stars Jane Leeves (Frasier), Valerie Bertinelli (Touched by an Angel) and Wendie Malick (Just Shoot Me), has been renewed for a third season by originating U.S. network TV Land.

RZA Gets Regular Gig on Californication

Source:  www.eurweb.com

(May 1, 2011) *Wu-Tang Clan’s
RZA is moving on with his career in Hollywood and has taken on a recurring role on Showtime’s “Californication” which stars David Duchovny. He’ll play the role of a character named Apocalypse. (Nice name.) On the show, his character who is a dangerous Hip Hop mogul who Hank (Duchovny) contemplates writing a movie for. Hank is a struggling writer and has a rocky family background. Acting is not a new adventure for the rapper. Since the inception of the Clan, he’s appeared on some big screen productions like “Due Date” and “American Gangster.” RZA is also focusing his talent and time to directing his first movie, “The Man with the Iron Fist,” produced by Eli Roth and Quentin Tarantino. It’s expected to hit theatres in December.

Glee in 3-D

Source: www.thestar.com - by: Debra Yeo

(May 04, 2011)  Gleeks who can't make it to one of the Glee cast's summer concerts (including four shows at the Air Canada Centre June 11 and 12) can go the movie theatre instead. The show is taking a page out of Justin Bieber's book and hitting big screens with a 3-D concert movie, directed by Kevin Tancharoen (Fame). According to The Hollywood Reporter, series creator Ryan Murphy says the movie is about bringing the concert experience to fans who can't get to a live show. And of course this altruism will make some money for the Fox TV and film studio. The movie will offer both concert and backstage footage of stars Lea Michele, Cory Monteith, Amber Riley, Chris Colfer, Kevin McHale, Jenna Ushkowtiz, Mark Salling, Dianna Agron, Naya Rivera, Heather Morris, Harry Shum Jr., Chord Overstreet, Darren Criss and Ashley Fink.

Fans Say Bring ‘The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency’ Back

Source: www.eurweb.com

(May 4, 2011) *Despite Jill Scott’s “The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency” being something like a hit to some, the show kind of fizzled off of HBO due to poor ratings. Now folks are trying to bring it back. Supporters on social media networks are petitioning for the show’s comeback. The series, based on the novels by the late Alexander McCall Smith, focuses on the story of a detective agency opened by Mma Ramotswe and her courtship with the mechanic Mr. JLB Matekoni.  Scott’s co-stars in the show included Anika Noni Rose, Lucian Msamati and Desmond Dube. So fans aren’t buying the “poor ratings” banter and are moving forward with the push to revive the series in one way or another, according to movie site Shadow and Act. There were talks in the past to bring it back in a two part movie format. But nothing has been finalized. If the power of the fan and social media networking work their magic, the show could be back on sooner than later. Click here to see/sign the virtual petition.

::THEATRE NEWS::

Shaun Majumder: Laughing His Way Back Home

Source:  www.globeandmail.com - By Brad Wheeler

(May 2, 2011) Thomas Wolfe said you can't go home again, but he didn't have a handy GPS device. And maybe
Shaun Majumder doesn't have one either. The comic's cross-country standup romp is called This Tour Has 22 Cities... The Road to Majumder Manor, which references, respectively, the CBC-TV comedy series This Hour Has 22 Minutes and an eco-friendly inn he plans to build in his Newfoundland hometown.

But the tour started in St. John's and works its way west. The so-called manor is to be built in the harbour community of Burlington, the place where he was raised by his Newfoundland-bred mother and his Indian father. He's headed the wrong way.

"It starts there," Majumder explains, laughing, "and goes all the way around the world and ends up back in Newfoundland."

Okay, Magellan, we'll take your word for it. The tour, his first national standup schedule and his first-ever theatre tour, actually ends in Edmonton. Before it started, Majumder popped into Toronto and stopped by the Rivoli club, a comedy hot spot where the 39-year-old actor-comic toiled years ago. The small, dark stage is downstairs, but we're up on the brighter second floor, where lazy afternooners shoot pool and try pinball for old-times sake.

"Remember how the cool kids used to do it?" Majumder asks, before striking the spring-loaded plunger aloofly instead of pulling on it in the traditional manner. He's got the body language and attitude down, but he's not much of a player. We share a game; I get the machine bleeping and flashing pretty good, and the genial extrovert Majumder cheers me on. "Look at this guy, will ya?"

Speaking of how the cool kids did it, was Majumder one of them? "I wanted to be a scientist-athlete," he says, over a beer. "I wanted to be on the national volleyball team, but I was too small."

When he was very young, Majumder and his family moved from Newfoundland to Mississauga, a suburban community west of Toronto. He acted in his first play in Grade 7, and started to get a better idea of his future - acting, standup, improv and sketch, he figured. "Standup comedy was just one of the branches," he says, with a shrug. "It took off."

Majumder currently stars in the Detroit-based ABC police drama 1-8-7. In the mid-1990s, he worked on YTV. Many know him by his Raj Binder character, a bumbling, ever-sweating sportscaster. "I don't know what people think," he says, when I suggest he's not best known for his standup work. "I do what I do."

There was a while when Majumder was getting bored with standup. "There was something stale inside of me," he says. But then he began working the black box at the back of the Rivoli. It was a loose space; he could spread out. "I wasn't fearful," he says, recalling the nights in front of hipper, discerning crowds. "You didn't need to worry about hitting every mark."

He still uses that free form on stage; he'll bring a little bit of the Rivoli with him on his current tour. On his off days, he'll speak to people across the country who might be able to help him with his Majumder Manor project. The green, high-end inn and restaurant with locally grown produce will occupy the land and an abandoned schoolhouse he once attended. He bought the property for $2,700; he hopes to break ground in June.

"It's all about giving back to the community," he explains.

Or maybe its about getting back to one's roots.

Shaun Majumder plays Moncton Tuesday tonight, continuing west.

Cirque Du Soleil Founder Says Michael Jackson Was A 'Big Fan' Of The Troupe

Source: By
Victoria Ahearn, The Canadian Press

(May 4, 2011) TORONTO - It seems Michael Jackson was as fond of Montreal's Cirque du Soleil as the famed acrobatic troupe is of him.

Cirque founder Guy Laliberte says the late King of Pop frequented company shows, and that's one of the reasons why they're honouring his legacy with several new projects.

"Michael was one of the greatest artists to hit this planet in the last 100 years. He was a great creative person, a great performer," Laliberte said in an interview this week as he was inducted into the Canadian Business Hall of Fame.

"We knew him because he was a big fan of Cirque du Soleil. He was
coming to every show, more than one time."

Opening in Montreal in October, Cirque's "Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour" will feature 60 international performers and a fantastical stage setting.

Renowned choreographer Jamie King wrote and directs the $57 million production, which will feature acrobats performing Jackson's signature dance moves to his music.

"I think his imagination was as large as the universe, so for us it's easy to think that we could do something voyaging and travelling in his creative environment," said Laliberte." We're very excited about it."

Cirque is also working with Jackson's estate to create several permanent attractions to honour the star in Las Vegas. Plans include an interactive memorabilia museum, a Jackson-themed lounge and a permanent show dedicated to him at the Mandalay Bay hotel-casino.

Established in 1979 by Junior Achievement of Canada, the Canadian Business Hall of Fame honours individual business leaders for their life achievements and service to the economy, community and the country.

Laliberte called it a "great honour" and dedicated it to his entire Cirque team.

His advice to those who want to follow in his footsteps was to "take the time at the beginning to envision and give yourself a clear mission, understanding what you'll have to defend and transmit through the rest of your business life."

"Because once you're in and once you grow, of course you could reorganize and readjust, but at the end it's how you define the personality of your company as an organism that will be very, very important for the future," he said before a black-tie gala hosted by CBC News anchor Peter Mansbridge on Tuesday night.

"After that it's about your employees that will have confidence or not in you. If you don't deviate then they'll support you, they'll back you up. But if (you're) ... changing ideas all the time about your things, then you'll create instability."

Born in Quebec City and raised in the suburbs of Montreal, Laliberte busked in Europe as a teen and joined a stilt-walking troupe east of Quebec City before forming Cirque in 1984.

Today, the company has more than 5,000 employees, including more than 1,500 artists, and mounts 20 different shows around the world.

Laliberte, who founded the poverty-fighting charity One Drop, attributed his success to a blend of commitment, dreaming, hard work, passion and original ideas.

He said he also takes time to learn new things and pursue challenging adventures, which in the past have included high-profile poker tournaments and becoming Canada's first space tourist.

"It's important, that's what keeps me alive," said the 51-year-old billionaire. "It always did and hopefully it will always do in the future."

Canadians In The Hunt For A Tony Award

Source: www.thestar.com - By Richard Ouzounian

(May 03, 2011) Sometimes, being earnest is very important.

That, in fact, is how
The Importance of Being Earnest went from being a hit at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in 2009 to earning three prestigious Tony nominations Tuesday when those coveted citations for distinguished achievement in the Broadway theatre were announced.

Earnest’s Ontario opening in 2009 brought excellent reviews, but that had happened many times before when veteran Stratford star, Brian Bedford, placed his deft directorial hand on a classical comedy that he also starred in.

What made this time different? Well, in the first place, there was the novelty factor of Bedford in drag as Lady Bracknell. Although other performers (including the late William Hutt) had done it before, somehow the time seemed right again.

But then the Manhattan critics came up to Stratford to give it their seal of approval and with the N.Y. Times throwing around words like “superb” and “splendid”, while the Wall Street Journal opted for “brilliantly zany”, it was only a matter of time before producers came calling.

And that they did, including show-business royalty like Mike Nichols and Scott Rudin. They all loved it, but as Bedford told me sadly at the time, “No one was willing to commit, to sign on the dotted line.”

But the tenacious Bedford kept pursuing options and finally, enter the Roundabout Theatre. One of New York’s largest and most successful producing companies, they had been Bedford’s host on his last three visits to Broadway (Tartuffe, London Assurance and The Moliere Comedies).

The only problem was that Artistic Director Todd Haimes wanted Bedford, his direction and Desmond Heeley’s designs, but not necessarily the entire Stratford company.

That presented a bit of a dilemma, but faced with the choice of sticking by his guns or bringing the show to New York, a lot of advisers, including colleagues high up in the Stratford Festival, urged him to accept the offer.

In the end, Sara Topham and Tim MacDonald alone joined Bedford, but the rest of the show was recast. When it opened on Jan. 13, the reviews were rapturous and it’s been held over time and time again.

Topham has had to leave the cast to fulfill her obligations at Stratford and while Bedford is still returning there to direct The Misanthrope, he will no longer be appearing in at as well.

Still, warts and all, it does make for a celebratory achievement. To paraphrase Wilde, “To get one Tony nomination is sheer luck; to earn three can be regarded as a triumph.”

THREE WINNERS FROM THE DAY:

ADAM BLANSHAY: The 30-year-old Montrealer woke up this morning to discover he was one of the producers of four shows that earned a total of 30 nominations: How to Succeed, Jerusalem, Catch Me If You Can and The Scottsboro Boys. “This is all really surprising and wonderful,” said a sleepy Blanshay, “but to tell you the truth, the Canadian election results are more truly exciting to me.”

NIKKI M. JAMES: She earned the respect of the Stratford Festival and Canadian theatregoers when she bounced back from an uneven Juliet in 2008 to give us a dazzling Cleopatra later the same summer. A family crisis forced her to withdraw from The Tempest in 2010, but today she got a nomination for Best Supporting Actress in a Musical for her work in the giant hit, The Book of Mormon.

TONY SHELDON: Toronto fell in love with him when he played the Lauren Bacall-ish Bernadette here in the North American premiere of Priscilla Queen of the Desert. New York felt the same way, because he was honoured today with a nomination as Best Leading Actor in a Musical. “My mother is so excited she is single-handedly powering all the electricity in Australia,” Sheldon told me Tuesday. “This is the fulfilment of a lifelong dream.”

THREE LOSERS

DANIEL RADCLIFFE: So what made the Tony nominators get up on the wrong side of the bed and deny Harry Potter a nomination for one of the very best performances of the year in the revival of How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying? They also turned on the likes of Chris Rock and Robin Williams. Go figure.

KIEFER SUTHERLAND: His wonderfully low-key work in the revival of That Championship Season slipped under the radar against some of the more flamboyant performances on display. And he too suffered from the Tony Awards’ Celebrity Aversion Therapy.

PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT: This vastly entertaining and touching show only got two nominations (for Tony Sheldon and its costumes), but was passed over for everything else including the all-important Best Musical category. Was it maybe just one jukebox musical too many?

::OTHER NEWS::

Jamawn Woods’ Wins NBC’s ‘America’s Next Great Restaurant’

Source:  www.eurweb.com

(May 2, 2011) *Soul food lovers in New York, Minneapolis and Los Angeles – get ready for a new restaurant from the winner of NBC’s premiere season of “
America’s Next Great Restaurant.”

The reality show – described as a cross between “The Apprentice” and “Top Chef” – gave its crown to  Jamawn
Woods for his restaurant Soul Daddy during Sunday’s season finale.

Soul Daddy beat The Brooklyn Meatball Company and Spice Coast in the final challenge which was had the finalists test their food with actual diners giving reviews on their meals.

The judges, including Bobby Flay, Curtis Stone, Steve Ells, and Lorena Garcia, agreed that Soul Daddy’s concept of healthy soul food was a success.

They thought the concept of fellow finalist Spice Coast (modern Indian food) was too similar to Chipotle Mexican Grill, and Brooklyn Meatball Company made them wait too long for their food, causing a backup.

“This is definitely the biggest moment of my life. I can’t wait to see the opening of my new restaurant,” Woods said upon winning.

The 34-year-old — whose fulltime job is driving a forklift at Chrysler’s Sterling Heights assembly plant — had been running a part-time catering business from his home, making chicken wings and waffles for friends, and became a contestant almost by accident after a network scout saw his food photos on Facebook.

“He’s come a long way,” said Flay in the final episode, who, as one of the judges, is also an investor in the restaurants. In an earlier interview he said, “Jamawn is doing it for all the right reasons: for a better life for his family.”

The finale was held several weeks ago and Woods’ restaurant opens its doors today at the Hollywood and Highland complex in Los Angeles, the Mall of America in Minneapolis and in New York’s South Street Seaport.

The show, which competed against “The Amazing Race” for many of its episodes, was watched by an average of 4.1 million viewers weekly.

Laila Ali Launches Line of Beauty Products for Ethnic Market

Source: www.eurweb.com

(Apr 29, 2011) *High-quality, natural products aimed at ethnic consumers are in short supply in the mass market, according to Laila Ali, who says her new self-titled line of hair care, skin care and fragrances — produced in Miami Lakes by International Beauty Brands — is intended to fill that void.

Ali’s line includes purifying shampoo, hydrating shampoo, curl-defining gel, conditioners, hair relaxer, age-defying cream, tone equalizer and daily face wash. Retail prices range from $10 to $18 for the hair and skin products, with fragrances priced between $35 and $45.

The hair products lean heavily on conditioning properties to compensate for the fact that African-American hair tends to be coarser and more heavily processed from relaxers.

“A lot of the products that are out there have chemicals that are not good for us and the environment,” Ali tells the Miami Herald. “What’s important to me is creating something that actually is going to build and strengthen the hair. It’s about trying to balance being good for you and also giving consumers the results they want.”

Ali, the daughter of boxing legend Muhammad Ali and the former owner of her own nail salon, is proud of the fact that her products are sulfate-free, which means they won’t weaken hair or make color fade. The products also include herbal and organic ingredients such as olive oil, shea butter, Acai berry and jojoba oil.

The 21 products for men and women have been rolling off the assembly line in recent weeks at the Miami Lakes factory where they were created.

It takes no more than 20 seconds to fill, label and package a six ounce bottle of daily facial moisturizer. For the initial roll-out, International Beauty Brands has produced about 30,000 pieces of each item to fill orders from major retailers including Wal-Mart, CVS, Sears and Navarro Discount Pharmacies.

The Ali product line targets a vibrant market. The ethnic health and beauty care products industry rang up nearly $2.7 billion in sales in 2009, a 4 percent increase over the previous year, according to Packaged Facts — and is expected to reach $3.7 billion by 2014. That growth compares to decreases in 2009 in most beauty categories during 2009, estimated at a total of $50 billion plus in the U.S.

While consumers will find the Ali products in the ethnic section of the store, the hope is that the collection will also appeal to a wider variety of consumers. Nothing about the white and cranberry packaging speaks to an ethnic audience. The only reference is Ali’s own image, which is used in all of the marketing and promotion.

“It’s a crossover brand,” said Tony Eluck, president of International Beauty Brands, who uses the products himself. “Anybody can use it. It’s not got Vaseline or anything that is going to weigh down your hair.”

“This is the first ethnic, professional quality line,” Eluck said. “What exists today in the ethnic mass market is an insult to the black woman.”

::TRAVEL::

Air Canada Resumes Island Airport Service Sunday

Source: www.thestar.com - Vanessa Lu

(April 27, 2011) What a difference five years makes.

Air Canada resumes flying out of the Toronto island airport on Sunday, although it’s now known as Billy Bishop airport, and the airline’s competition is Porter Airlines, the upstart with a raccoon as a mascot.

A new ferry is now running between the airport and the mainland for the 90-second ride. The terminal has gone up-market, with an executive-style lounge complete with iMac computers and free cappuccino available to all passengers.

After years of legal battles, Air Canada will be offering 15 round-trip flights to Montreal, a busy and popular route, hoping to draw business travellers who want to fly in and out of downtown Toronto.

Takeoff and landing slots are tightly controlled for flights out of the island airport, and in the latest round, Air Canada received just 30 slots. Because of that, the airline is focusing on hourly schedules between Toronto and Montreal every day to compete with Porter, which has 156 slots, and flies to many more cities from the airport.

“We’re on record that we’d like to fly to other destinations outside of Montreal,” said Ben Smith, Air Canada’s executive vice-president and chief commercial officer in an interview. “I would think over time, depending whether we get access to more slots, or start new destinations, we may tweak that.”

Continental Airlines, which has merged with United Airlines, was awarded 16 slots last year, but earlier this month the airline backed out of its plan for flights to Newark, N.J., citing rising costs.

“We elected not to launch the service because the significantly increased cost of fuel coupled with operating costs made the planned service too costly to operate,” said spokesman Rahsaan Johnson.

The Toronto Port Authority has now asked Air Canada and Porter for proposals on what they would do with those slots.

“Our overarching goal is to add new destinations. We want to make the right decision, not just a fast decision,” said port authority chair Mark McQueen, adding it is unlikely there will be any new routes in 2011.

Air Canada is kicking off its new Express service with promotions for travel agents as well as contests for passengers including free tickets, Aeroplan points and hotel stays on flights between May 9 and June 10. A winning seat number will be called out on every flight.

Sky Regional Airlines Inc., a division of Skyservice Business Aviation, will be operating Air Canada’s service on five Bombardier Q400 turboprop planes, the same aircraft that Porter uses.

Air Canada, whose Jazz operations were evicted from the airport in 2006 by the terminal company controlled by Robert Deluce, who started Porter in late 2006, believes this new service will be a success.

“It’s a service that our corporate customers, our leisure customers have been asking for,” Smith said.

And for customers, the competition won’t hurt.

Starting Monday, WestJet Airlines has added more flights from Toronto’s Pearson airport to Montreal and Ottawa, as well as an offer of free wine or beer on board. Plus it’s promising that if a flight on those routes is more than 30 minutes late, customers will get a 50 per cent discount on the next trip.

Romance In No Short Supply On The California Coast

Source: www.thestar.com - Kathleen Kenna

(May 4, 2011) ALBION RIVER, CALIFORNIA—Before we wed 10 years ago at Whistler, B.C., Hadi and I promised not to buy gifts for each other. Not for anniversaries or birthdays. Not for Christmas. And especially not Valentine's Day.

Instead, we would save for a shared passion—travel. In 10 years, we've visited 18 countries (five were just for work).

This has produced a list of romantic favourites (Bora Bora, the Greek islands, Spain), and a “must return” list (India, Czech Republic, Ireland). Since we both returned to school in our 40s, we used airline points to stay in European capitals at spring breaks (Barcelona, Prague, Dublin, Rome).

Student budgets meant staying close to our San Francisco home. Combining school and work meant shorter trips too, so we splurged on one- or two-night getaways along the California coast.

So where to celebrate our first milestone of marriage?

We had wandered around Spain for five weeks. And everything on our
“bucket list “ was too expensive (South Pacific, African safari, China). So, for our 10th anniversary, we returned to the place where we've celebrated our romance in all seasons: the California coast.

We began at Morro Bay, a sweet spot on the central coast where our getaways-from-school included kayaking to watch sea otters.

Not to mention eating fresh seafood on the docks. We ended in Mendocino County, a favourite spot since our dating days.

This adventure was marked by spectacular moments: Spying wild elk in the woods on the north coast, and otters, seals and sea lions on the south coast. It included great hikes, from giant redwood forests in Mendocino County to eucalyptus groves in San Luis Obispo County. Hummingbirds darted at our heads at Ragged Point.

We cuddled by fireplaces in December, then marvelled at camellias, tulip magnolias and roses blooming in January. East coast winter is spring on this side of the continent, so we enjoyed warm weather and sunshine most days. The Pacific was rough in sun and rain, producing huge waves everywhere we went. Sunsets were glorious.

And the seafood? We had the most fun eating with our hands at Mendocino County's annual crab and wine festival ( www.visitmendocino.com)

It's the first time we've broken bread—literally—with happy strangers, wearing bibs and cracking crabs by the bucketful at a communal table at the historic Little River Inn.

At journey's end, we compiled a personal Top 10 list of romantic hotels along the California coast. All are oceanfront. All have waterfront walks, from white sand beaches to cliffside trails. Each offers peace and quiet, away from cities.

Prices range from less than $100 off-season to $450 at peak season. Most rates include breakfast, parking and WiFi.

Albion River Inn ( www.albionriverinn.com).

Our all-time California favourite. It's the only place we've stayed three times (our first trip, we stayed four nights and had wild bunnies play on our private lawn every day). This inn on the Mendocino coast in northern California offers the most private, luxurious space of any on the list. It's the only place where several varieties of hummingbirds danced inches from our oceanview table. We've watched osprey soar above our private deck. This is the only hotel with Bushnell binoculars in each room. It's also the only place where a foghorn lulls you to sleep.

Tip: Award-winning chef Stephen Smith grows his own herbs and edible flowers for cuisine featuring local organics and sustainable seafood. The inn just won its 19th consecutive Award of Excellence from Wine Spectator magazine.

Harbor House Inn ( www.theharborhouseinn.com).

We found this Mendocino inn at dusk on a long road trip from Canada. We've always been grateful to the innkeeper who cut the nightly rate in half, then sent staff out to find wild salmon for a late dinner. We enjoyed a plush cabin for two with private balcony and big, oceanfront windows.

Tip: Lounging on terraces that slope to the Pacific is a rare pleasure. Landscaping is as luxurious as interiors here.

Inn at Morro Bay ( www.innatmorrobay.com).

A real fishing village, Morro Bay on the central coast is one of our most treasured California finds. Resident sea otters are captivating: We're always thrilled to see them crack open shells on their chests and feast on their backs, while floating in kelp beds. Locals bring lawn chairs and binoculars to watch otters for hours.

Tip: Dockside eateries for lunch; dinner in town at Dorn's Original Breakers Cafe. An indoor firepit at Top Dog Coffee Bar in town suits chilly mornings.

Best Western, Carlsbad ( www.bestwestern.com).

Chardonnay on the sundeck is great for sunset-watching at this Frank Lloyd Wright-style hotel near San Diego. Gaped at dolphins playing in the waves one morning at the Ocean View Lounge. We always meet the friendliest dog-walkers on Carlsbad's long boardwalk, who point out osprey and other hunting raptors. (There's a wildfowl refuge nearby.)

Tip: Fish House Vera Cruz is so good, we've returned to Carlsbad just for the seafood. ( www.fishhouseveracruz.com)

Beachcomber Motel, Fort Bragg ( www.thebeachcombermotel.com)

Oceanview rooms with fireplace don't get more affordable than this northern coast location. It's next to a long boardwalk and bluffside trails at the edge of town.

Tip: Enjoy raw and vegan food at Living Light, or train at its Culinary Arts Institute. ( www.rawfoodchef.com)

Try Glass Beach, where polished glass washes in from an old dump.

Fogcatcher Inn, Cambria ( www.fogcatcherinn.com)

Thatched-style roofs, lush gardens and brick paths make this central coast spot feel like a country inn, in a row of oceanfront motels. Big rooms with fireplaces. No need for a view: Moonstone Beach and Cambria's long boardwalk are next to the hotel.

Tip: Sunset-gazing is so popular, the outdoor patio fills early at Moonstone Beach Bar & Grill. ( www.moonstonebeach.com)

Beachcomber Inn, Pacific Grove ( www.montereypeninsulainns.com) The most modest spot on the list is next to one of the most upscale areas (Pebble Beach). We always walk for hours here, through Asilomar state park and Pacific Grove's fabulous gardens. On our visit, we met scientists tracking sea otters. We always spot wild deer, from headlands to front yards.

Tip: Try abalone and other specialties at the Fishwife at Asilomar Beach, next to the hotel. ( www.fishwife.com)

Ragged Point Inn, Ragged Point ( www.raggedpointinn.com)

This central coast gem, about 30 km north of San Simeon) is one even many Californians don't know about it. Favoured for weddings and photo ops because of its dramatic cliffs, Ragged Point boasts treed walkways along the bluffs. Its flower gardens are popular with hummingbirds.

Tip: Ragged Point is on state maps, but there's no village. This is it.

Nick's Sea Breeze Motel, Pacifica ( www.nicksrestaurant.net)

When San Francisco is too pricey, try this spot. It's so near the ocean, hotels are sprayed by big waves. Basic rooms, but a lively place and a surfers' paradise, with maverick waves. Calla lilies were blooming in January, and waterside trails have been upgraded.

Tip: Nick's Seashore Restaurant offers better ocean views than any city restaurant.

Elk Cove Inn, Elk ( www.elkcoveinn.com)

This Mendocino retreat in northern California is the ultimate in luxury, with lavish breakfasts. The public beach is so secluded it feels private, with huge driftwood and tiny marine life in tide pools. Guest books in our top-floor room spoke of decades of romance: Visitors from all over the U.S. and Canada proposed, married and honeymooned here; and many celebrated 25th, 30th, and even 39th anniversaries in oceanview suites.

Tip: Innkeepers Patty, Lynda, Peter and Geoff enliven breakfast and afternoon wine and cheese (make-your-own martinis and more) with anecdotes and Elk lore.

Kathleen Kenna is a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon. Her trip was subsidized by the Albion River Inn and Elk Cove Inn.

::SPORTS NEWS::

MMA - The High Cost Of Living Dangerously

Source:  www.thestar.com - Morgan Campbell

(April 29, 2011) BARRIE—When
Gary (Big Daddy) Goodridge strides into his living room, the hands that once delivered punches now cradle pill bottles.

Fifteen years ago, Goodridge won his Ultimate Fighting Championship debut by knocking his opponent cold with one elbow strike. The other seven were pure adrenaline.

That fight made the Barrie resident a cult hero in a fringe sport — a 260-pound bruiser who mixed martial arts promoters knew would face any fighter anywhere, as long as the cheque cleared.

Five months into his retirement, Goodridge’s massive fists and bulging biceps suggest he can still inflict serious damage, but he grapples with the lifelong effects of countless headshots and concussions.

To navigate life after fighting, the 45-year-old depends on medication.

Levoxyl for his thyroid.

Cipralex for depression.

Aricept for memory.

Still quick with a joke, Goodridge can recall his fights in painstaking detail. But he sometimes stumbles over words, and often repeats himself because he simply forgets what he’s just said.

His drug regimen is suited to an Alzheimer’s patient, and that’s no accident. After 85 combined kickboxing and MMA bouts, many of them poorly regulated, Goodridge at times feels much older than 45.

“My brain,” he says, “doesn’t remember much these days.”

Saturday night, a record 55,000 spectators will pack the Rogers Centre for UFC 129, further evidence that MMA is now mainstream. But beyond the UFC’s glitz lies the unglamorous reality that hounds other contact sports —repeated headshots cause irreversible brain damage.

Mixed martial artists aren’t immune, and as the sport’s first generation of stars hits middle age the issue becomes even more acute. A recent study by the National Athletic Trainers Association found MMA fighters suffer concussions at more than twice the rate of hockey players.

UFC Canada president Tom Wright says later this year the UFC will enter into a three-year Cleveland Clinic study that will track brain trauma in boxers and MMA fighters.

“We don’t know what the answers are going to be . . . but it’s important to establish some empirical data,” he said. “That’s why we’re working with commissions and with physicians to make the sports as safe as possible.”

Goodridge’s case is extreme.

With its focus on high-impact head shots, kickboxing is considered more dangerous than MMA and few fighters shuttle between the two sports as long as Goodridge did. But he’s not unique. He’s just the latest in a growing list of retired contact sport athletes with degenerative brain conditions.

While an autopsy on hockey enforcer Bob Probert showed he suffered from brain damage, Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks Jim McMahon and Terry Bradshaw have each spoken out recently about the concussions that caused the memory loss that haunts them in retirement.

When former Eagles safety Andre Waters committed suicide in 2006, a post-mortem showed the 44-year-old had the brain of a man more than 40 years older, thanks to concussions suffered during his 12-year NFL career.

In February, former Chicago Bear Dave Duerson killed himself after a retirement marred by depression and eroding motor skills — two symptoms of dementia. His suicide note included a plea to preserve and examine his brain for signs of damage.

Because the sport is so new, MMA doesn’t yet have a roll call of brain-damaged retirees, but brain trauma remains an issue.

Hamilton welterweight Jeff Joslin retired in 2007 after suffering a severe concussion while training for a UFC bout, while a string of crushing knockouts forced light-heavyweight legend Chuck Liddell into retirement last year.

“You can’t eliminate risk,” Wright says, “but there are things we’re doing to manage that risk.”

Any fighter knocked out Saturday night will be hospitalized overnight and forced to sit out for up to 90 days by both the UFC and the province.

The low-voltage shows where Goodridge slugged out the final years of his career lacked such safeguards. Goodridge fought until last December because he needed the cash and because small-time promoters needed a big name, even if it meant ignoring glaring signs of cognitive decline. Friends say his speech, memory and co-ordination have deteriorated steadily since at least 2006. Twice weekly, Goodridge attends Brain Injury Services in Barrie, where staff administer tests and memory drills meant to preserve cognitive function as his brain atrophies.

Yet earlier this month his former manager, Steve Rusich, opened an email from an Edmonton promoter with commission approval to host an MMA card with shockingly loose rules, permitting kicks to the head of downed fighters. He wanted to know if Goodridge, who hadn’t won in four years, was available to fight.

“I don’t think they understand the damage there is,” Rusich says. “I don’t know that they would care anyway, but I don’t think they know.”

Goodridge’s Barrie home office doubles as his trophy room, the walls surrounding his computer covered with mementos — T-shirts emblazoned with his image, framed articles from the local newspaper, a pair of boxing gloves signed by Muhammad Ali. They’re symbols of the fame Goodridge gained in a sport he found by accident.

In 1996, Goodridge worked at the Honda factory in Alliston, a world champion arm wrestler who had dabbled in amateur boxing. That winter, he watched a grainy videotape of UFC 3 with some friends, who quickly began pushing Goodridge to try the nearly no-holds-barred form of fighting. Within two weeks, they had located the UFC matchmaker, and a quick conversation earned Goodridge a berth at UFC 8 in Puerto Rico.

Then he realized he would have to back up his bragging.

“I wanted to hide,” Goodridge says. “What the hell was I doing? I didn’t know. I was just talking big because in my mind I didn’t think it would go anywhere.”

Goodridge had no formal martial arts training, but it didn’t matter. He faced a wrestler named Paul Herrera and starched him with those eight quick elbow strikes. The bout remains part of UFC folklore and a lingering regret for renowned referee John McCarthy.

“That’s one fight,” McCarthy says, “I wish I had stopped sooner.”

Goodridge’s career as a full-contact fighter started that night, and after six more UFC bouts he jetted to Japan, where MMA and kickboxing were already filling stadiums. He was learning on the job, but had freakish power and a never-surrender style. While Goodridge didn’t always win, he always entertained.

“He wouldn’t quit, and that’s why the Japanese loved him so much,” says Susie Goodridge, Gary’s younger sister and long-time strength coach. “He wasn’t the best fighter out there, but they loved him because of his heart.”

In Japan, Goodridge delivered devastating knockouts and received some, too.

Like the time in 1997 when he flattened Oleg Taktarov; Goodridge’s right fist arcs like an axe blade toward the Russian grappler’s face before it cracks his chin. Taktarov falls face-first at Goodridge’s feet, unconscious.

Three years later, Goodridge faces Dutch kickboxing ace Gilbert Yvel, and catches a kick on the side of his skull. The blow rattles Goodridge to his teeth, several of which spill out of his mouth as he crumples to the canvas, unconscious.

“That was definitely a concussion. It was the first knockout I ever had in my life,” Goodridge says. “I had a few after that.”

Did that knockout jump-start the degeneration of Goodridge’s brain? It’s tough to tell. Early on the damage can accrue slowly, like interest on a savings account.

UCLA neuropsychologist Dr. Tony Strickland explains that each headshot causes the brain to bounce off the skull’s inner walls, which in turn prompts a disruption in blood flow that jolts the brain’s chemical environment out of equilibrium. Calcium rushes in while brain cells run critically low on glucose, the energy source they need to function properly.

Most times the brain snaps to normal within seconds. But after a heavy blow that imbalance can persist, depriving the brain of the blood and glucose it needs for hours or more. That’s a concussion, with effects — like headaches, fatigue and nausea — that you might feel for days, weeks or months.

Whether or not they cause concussions, repeated headshots diminish an athlete’s ability to recover from head trauma.

In aging fighters, the damage compounds like the interest on a payday loan. As headshots ravage the brain’s delicate circuitry, speech, memory and co-ordination deteriorate quickly.

“People talk about the brain as if it’s a homogenous, undifferentiated mass,” says Strickland, director of the Sports Concussion Institute in Los Angeles. “(It’s more complex) and it will greatly accelerate the decline if you already have the decline (and keep fighting).”

Goodridge’s upcoming biography, Gatekeeper, discusses his brain damage in detail. The author, Mark Dorsey, hasn’t seen photos of Goodridge’s brain, and isn’t sure he wants to.

“It’s one of those silent killers and the evidence builds up slowly,” he says. “But I guarantee that if you look at his brain it’s got major dark spots and looks like an Alzheimer’s patient.”

In Ontario, a fighter in that condition would likely flunk a pre-fight medical exam. In mid-April, the UFC had to scramble to find an opponent for Toronto’s Sean Pierson when a pre-fight MRI revealed a brain hemorrhage in his original UFC 129 opponent, Brian Foster.

But Goodridge spent his late career on the sport’s poorly regulated periphery. In 2008, he lost a sloppy fight on a Six Nations reserve, and his final bout took place in a dingy Bulgarian arena. His sister Susie says those small-time fights often didn’t require a blood test, let alone a brain scan.

After those fights Susie would ask Goodridge questions to test his memory. Then she would cry.

“As much as I enjoyed myself, I’m glad I don’t have to do it anymore,” she says. “I felt anxiety. It’s very hard to watch somebody you love keep getting kicked in the head.”

Though Goodridge moves more slowly than before, he’s far from feeble.

His name still resonates, and he opened a second Facebook profile because he had exceeded the site’s limit of 5,000 friends.

After two failed attempts to open a gym in Barrie, Goodridge recently founded the Big Daddy Fight team, with an eye on opening another fitness centre. But his increasingly garbled speech means color commentary, once his most likely calling, isn’t an option.

Nevertheless, Goodridge says he doesn’t regret the high cost of fighting so long.

“Why retire?” he says. “To hang on to a couple of extra brain cells? All the old people die and all the young people live. We’re just getting ready for the bone yard.”

Scattered on the seat cushion next to Goodridge are the pills he’ll need until then.

Levoxyl for his thyroid.

Cipralex for depression.

Aricept for memory.

In India, Teenage Girls Face Down Islamic Traditions With A Basketball

Source:  www.thestar.com - Rick Westhead

(May 02, 2011) MUMBAI, INDIA—
Afreen Karim is doubled over, gasping for breath, cramps in her legs, feeling light-headed.

It’s 9:30 p.m. on a recent muggy evening and the 18-year-old has spent the past two hours playing alongside five female friends in a spirited, chippy even, game of basketball against a team of local boys.

While most of the local boys in this gritty Mumbai neighbourhood have played basketball for much of their lives, Afreen first picked up a ball in 2009, only a few weeks after the National Basketball Association paid to renovate and repair the court, which is encircled by aging British Raj-era apartments and tin-roofed hovels.

Three years on, if she’s not one of her community’s best players, Afreen is certainly among its most aggressive.

As sweat drips from her forehead, Afreen turns to a friend standing
nearby. “I will be here tomorrow for some more practice at 7 a.m. Will you come?” she wheezes.

Local coaches say Afreen has developed into a good athlete with a smooth jump shot, a skill for sensing open lanes to the basket, and an unrivalled desire to be the best player in any game. She has a chance this year, some say, to make it to Maharashtra’s state team.

If that happens, Afreen may be in line for a life-altering payoff.

Playing for her state would increase her chances of winning a coveted and rare position on a club team.

While India doesn’t have a pro basketball league, it does have a
semi-professional circuit of club teams. Various government agencies — railroads, the army, police and income tax departments — offer full-time jobs to talented players, who typically receive salaries of more than 20,000 rupees ($430 Canadian) a month, lodgings, and a lifetime job, even following their retirement from basketball.

But Afreen’s story of success is about more than sports and money.

It’s also illustrative of how families in orthodox neighbourhoods can challenge social mores. Nagpada is a community of Muslim families. Seven mosques are within a stone’s throw of the outdoor basketball court and on the dusty, noisy streets here, where chickens and goats run free, most locals still say girls like Afreen should not be playing basketball.

In the world’s biggest democracy, there are no laws preventing women from playing sports, but as with customs about marriage dowries, which remain prevalent even though they’ve been illegal for a half century, traditions here have a grip on the local community that are as strong as any legislation.

“These girls should be staying in their homes,” says Imam Saeed Gulam Sarwar, the spiritual leader at a mosque across the street from the court. “Everyone here knows that girls who are 18 should not be playing sports. They should be home observing purdah,” the Islamic custom of secluding women from men.

Sarwar, whose beard is dyed with henna a fiery red, says he’s included Afreen and her teammates in his sermons. He’s also confronted Afreen’s father, demanding she and her 16-year-old sister Sumaiya stop playing.

The paint on the green and rose-coloured court is faded and rats scurry along the drain troughs that run along the edge of the playing surface. Three years ago, after the NBA visited Mumbai and replaced the pre-existing potholed court, installed new backboards, and handed out a case of new basketballs, Afreen cornered her father in their one-room home here.

“I really wanted to play,” she pleaded.

If she was expecting a confrontation, she didn’t get one.

Sheikh Karim, her father, nodded his approval.

He and his wife Mumtaz have lived a life typical for most lower-class Mumbai residents. The daughter of a local real estate broker, Mumtaz was 7 when she stopped attending school. By the time she was 16, she was married to Karim, a local taxi driver.

“I was lucky,” she says over a lunch of rice biryani in her family’s home. “He’s a good man.”

With a ruddy face, kind eyes and a good command of English, Karim doesn’t see much of his family. He works six days a week driving the chaotic streets of this city of 16 million. He starts at 10 a.m. and finishes his shift at midnight. He pays 350 rupees to rent his taxi, and another 200 for fuel. In a shift, he’s lucky to make 900 rupees, making his take-home pay about 350 rupees, or $7.50, a day.

But Karim says he’s tried to instill in his four children the belief that just because they’re poor doesn’t mean they can’t be happy.

So why not let them play sports?

“I am not less of a Muslim because my girls play basketball,” Karim says, tightening a royal blue sarong around his waist. “Life is tough here and what is there for kids to do? Why can’t they play? Afreen’s a good girl, and smart.”

The family still reminisces about the time six years ago when Afreen returned home to find her older sister Rehana, then 14, lying passed out on the concrete floor. She had failed a test at school and taken poison. Afreen lifted her older sister over her shoulder and carried her to the closest hospital, saving her life.

“When she first started going onto the court, the imam came to me and said this was wrong,” Karim says. “I didn’t want to argue or disagree with him so I said, ‘Okay, we’ll see. I’ll consider it.’ ”

Early on, the girls struggled on the court.

“There were a lot of air balls, they were not very good,” says Taha Khan, a 16-year-old who has played for Maharashtra state’s boys team. “But you can see now they are playing more confidently. And parents are becoming more open to it as well. Even those who said girls could play said they had to be home by 7. Now, they are letting them stay later.”

Steadily, their skills improved and by last summer, the girls from Nagpada advanced to the state semi-finals.

Now, the girls have become a mainstay on the court and a curiosity for spectators. As the girls practised one evening this week — they wore track pants to cover their legs, and short-sleeve shirts — some residents watched from their nearby balconies.

Afreen and her sister Sumaiya dribbled balls near centre court, both trying to maintain control of their own ball while knocking away the other’s. They walked confidently, smiling often, and exchanged high-fives with boys, most of whom grinned when they saw the girls coming.

“It’s a new generation, and I like them being out here with us,” Khan says.

Zarin Rangwala, a 16-year-old forward who wore a light blue jersey and her long black hair pulled back in a braid, may be the best female player on her team. Last year, she was selected to represent Maharashtra, but says she has no ambitions for playing for a club.

“I’m going to medical school,” Rangwala says. “I’m out here to refresh my mind and body.”

A report released this week concluded obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes are becoming increasingly common in urban India. Over the past seven years, the prevalence of diabetes in 1,100 young women in the study has doubled to 7 per cent.

Sports, Rangwala says, is a great way for locals to increase fitness levels.

Still, some locals frown at the changes.

As the girls practised, 43-year-old Farhat Khan sat in his shop nearby with a group of friends talking about cricket and local politics. Khan clucked his tongue when a visitor asked whether most residents were pleased with the new court, which some say has helped cut down on crime because it has kept teenagers occupied.

Nagpada, locals are eager to mention, has been a well-known hub for organized crime in Mumbai with the nickname “den of the dons.”

“Maybe it has helped,” Khan shrugged. “I have two girls, 17 and 13 and they know not to ask me about basketball. They want sports. They can do as much studying as they want. I won’t have my daughters playing with their whole bodies exposed out there.”

To be sure, that sentiment is hardly unique in many conservative Muslim countries, where some say women playing sports is immoral and immodest. Increasingly, public opinion is forcing a number of those nations to reconsider the issue.

Three Muslim countries — Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Brunei — have never sent a woman to the Olympic Games. Phys-ed is banned in Saudi Arabia’s state-run schools for girls, and local fitness centres are not advertised to avoid drawing scrutiny.

Last year, a Washington-based dissident named Ali al-Ahmed started a campaign called “No women, no play.” He is lobbying the International Olympic Committee to ban Saudi Arabia from the Olympics until it allows women to participate.

For years following the revolution in Iran, women were allowed to attend the country’s few golf courses. But they were expected to play while wearing long black robes known as the chador. Those restrictions have since been lifted and women in Iran now line up their putts wearing head scarves, pants and long-sleeved tunics.

In Iraq, women’s wrestling teams were formed in 2009, with the support of the country’s wrestling federation. While some women have competed wearing veils, others have reportedly grappled in shorts and soccer jerseys — but only when there are no male wrestlers in attendance.

In Kenya, where about 10 per cent of residents are Muslim, some girls have chafed over being ordered to wear the long-flowing hijab while playing volleyball, prompting the United Nations to ask Nike and others to help design something more comfortable for athletics that is still conservative.

Even in India, there have been unlikely and high-profile showdowns over women in sports. In 2005, a group of Muslim clerics issued a fatwa, or Islamic judgment demanding that Sania Mirza, the first Indian woman to break into the top 50 in pro tennis, cover herself during matches.

Mirza, then 18, temporarily bowed to the pressure and traded her skirt for shorts.

A few days after her evening practice in Nagpada, Afreen sat up on a thin yellow mattress in her family’s lone twin-sized bed and stretched.

As her mother prepared tea, Afreen yawned and admitted she hasn’t given much thought to what she’ll do if basketball doesn’t work out. She’s currently taking general courses at Burhani College, an English medium school that costs her father 2,400 rupees a year.

“Maybe teach,” she said after a pause. “Maybe teach basketball.”

But that may depend on whether her eventual husband is as open-minded as her father.

Karim says he’s been saving to pay dowries for both of his two teenaged daughters after paying 100,000 rupees for his eldest daughter’s marriage.

“I won’t take a single rupee for his wedding,” Karim says, ruffling his 15-year-old son Amirhamza’s tousled hair. “But traditions are strong. Change comes slow.”

Maybe so, but thanks to a taxi driver father, it is coming.